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Shutdown saga continues

As the partial government shutdown heads into the weekend, Catholics in the military may have to miss Mass

Another day dawns on the Capitol building and the partial government shutdown. Associated Press/Photo by Susan Walsh

Shutdown saga continues

WASHINGTON—With no end in sight for the partial shutdown of the federal government, some Catholics in the military may have nowhere to celebrate Mass this weekend.

As part of the continuing efforts by government officials to make the effect of the government shutdown as visible as possible, non–active duty priests who work on military bases as contractors may be subject to arrest if they perform their duties while the government is closed.

“With the government shutdown, many GS [government services] and contract priests who minister to Catholics on military bases worldwide are not permitted to work—not even to volunteer,” wrote John Schlageter, the general counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services USA, in an op-ed yesterday on the Archdiocese for the Military Services website. “During the shutdown, it is illegal for them to minister on base and they risk being arrested if they attempt to do so.”

The Archdiocese for the Military Services provides pastoral ministries and spiritual services to Catholics in the U.S. armed forces. As examples, Schlageter wrote how a Catholic family’s scheduled baptism may be canceled while Catholic service members serving overseas in areas with few Catholic churches may be forced to go without Mass this weekend.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, little movement between the political parties seemed to guarantee that the shutdown would extend through the weekend. Both Democrats and Republicans continued their strategies: Democrats refusing to negotiate and Republicans continuing to pass bills in the House—that the Senate ignores—reopening parts of the government. Both parties seem confident the other side will eventually get blamed for the shutdown fallout.

The Republican-controlled House on Friday made plans to vote on providing funds for a nutrition program for women, infants, and children, as well as for programs related to disaster assistance. This piecemeal approach already has seen the House approve measures to fund the national parks and services for veterans. The passing of funding bills for what the Republicans are calling critical government operations is aimed at pressuring Democrats into coming to the bargaining table.

But Democrats have resisted, and the White House has threatened more vetoes of these proposed partial finding bills. But the Obama administration on Friday did signal support for one House measure. That bill, which the House may pass this weekend, would guarantee that furloughed federal employees will get back pay for days missed once the shutdown ends. A similar restoration of back pay passed Congress after the 1995-96 closure of the federal government.

“Federal workers keep the nation safe and secure and provide vital services that support the economic security of American families,” the White House said in a statement about the back pay bill.

House Democrats made plans on Friday to try and force the Republican-controlled chamber to pass a Senate funding bill that does not alter Obamacare. The Democrats want to utilize a procedural motion called a “discharge petition.” They need 218 signatures to support the petition and force the House to vote on the Senate bill. With 200 Democrats in the House, Democrats would have to convince 18 Republicans to defect.

“I don’t think they poll-tested ‘we won’t negotiate,’” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who was caught on a live camera voicing his opinions on the Democrats’ main shutdown strategy. “I think it’s awful for [Democrats] to say that over and over again.”

Not surprisingly, Democrats think otherwise. The Wall Street Journal on Friday quoted a senior administration official as saying, “We are winning. … It doesn’t really matter to us [how long the shutdown lasts] because what matters is the end result.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and President Barack Obama backed off that comment later in the day. But the notion of winning fired up House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, during a press conference. “This isn’t some [expletive deleted] game,” he said.

As the lawmakers taunt and shout at one another, polls show Americans confidence continues to fall. The Gallup Economic Confidence survey has plunged 34 points, including a drop of 14 points in the last four days. Obama’s approval rating has also dipped to 41 percent according to Gallup. The president’s 52 percent disapproval rating is the highest it’s been in two years.

In D.C., a restaurant chain may soon experience its own dip in popularity after its owner decided to end a promotion tied to the shutdown. For the past three days, four Washington-area Z-Burger restaurants offered free hamburgers to furloughed federal workers, but owner Peter Tabibian decided to pull the plug on the promotion after giving away 15,840 sandwiches. More than 200 people would sometimes line up at the restaurants, spilling out onto the sidewalks.

“It literally almost put me out of business,” Tabibian told The Wall Street Journal, noting that the free burgers would have sold for $88,000 at retail prices. “When I started this thing … I didn’t know that many government workers were in such a need for hamburgers.”

Other area businesses offered free oil changes and knitting classes. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden also left the White House for lunch, walking to a nearby sandwich shop that advertised a 10 percent discount for furloughed workers. There was no word on whether Obama and Biden got the discount even though they are not among those furloughed.

Other federal workers I know went to nearby orchards to pick apples so they could bring apple desserts to Bible studies. Even more federal workers took to local golf courses and posted photos online showing the long lines of golf carts at each hole in the middle of a normal workday.

But back inside the Capitol, lawmakers did work. While ignoring the House-passed bill to open some of the government, the Senate on Friday passed a measure to designate next week as National Chess Week. But as for the shutdown, we’ll have to wait and see which party’s move ultimately will lead to checkmate instead of stalemate.

Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is the executive director of the World Journalism Institute and former Washington, D.C. bureau chief for WORLD Magazine. He is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and teaches journalism at Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa.

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