Congress must pass legislation by this Saturday to prevent a government shutdown. House Republicans rejected 2024 spending levels previously agreed upon by Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden in May.
“The hardest part about this is that it was avoidable. If they had just passed a simple funding bill,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley told Boston Public Radio on Thursday. She said McCarthy’s inability to build consensus among his party created the problem.
“Let’s be clear. If the government shuts down it will be because Republicans can’t govern. And, that’s it. They’re playing political games with people’s livelihood and lives,” Pressley said.
If there’s a shutdown, the Massachusetts representative said nearly 7,000 federal workers and contractors living in her congressional district could be furloughed. Pressley and fellow Democrat Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota introduced the Fair Pay for Federal Contractors Act on Thursday, legislation that would guarantee back pay for contracted federal workers. These workers currently don’t receive back pay once the shutdown ends, unlike government employees.
Additionally, McCarthy and Republicans are advancing a series of appropriations bills this week with “draconian cuts to federal safety net programs,” Pressley said. These bills include cuts to nutrition aid for mothers and families, which Pressley said could impact 125,000 families in her district. There are also proposals to cut heating assistance for low-income families by 70%, even as cold weather looms.
“They are so tone deaf and removed from the everyday challenges of people and what we need to be focused on. There is a lot of a struggle and they are only contributing to it,” Pressley said. House Republicans are demanding $120 billion in cuts from Biden and McCarthy’s agreed-upon $1.59 trillion budget, and tougher immigration legislation at the U.S. and Mexico border before agreeing to a budget.
During her conversation with Boston Public Radio, Pressley also spoke about efforts to relieve student loan debt before payments resume next month. With the looming government shutdown, Pressley said she’s calling on the Biden administration to push back the start of repayment once again.
“People will fall off a fiscal cliff,” she said, if they simultaneously lose their income and resume monthly loan payments during the shutdown. Pressley said she also has concerns on whether the Department of Education is even ready to handle repayment by the end of the month.
In the meantime, Pressley said she’s making sure her “constituents are aware of what relief is available to them through the SAVE Program, Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and income-driven repayment, while continuing to push for broad based student debt cancellation through this rule-making process.”