WASHINGTON, D.C. — At midnight in Washington D.C., “non-essential” services of the federal government shut down for the first time since 1995 after Congress failed to approve a budget deal.

Faced with the failure of Congress to complete one of its most fundamental tasks, Sen. Mazie Hirono told Civil Beat hours before the shutdown that it would have grave consequences across the nation, and especially in Hawaii where tens of thousands of federal employees are slated to stop working — and stop getting paid — as of Tuesday. In a state where tourism is the largest industry, people will not be able to visit sites such as the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor or any of the state’s national parks.

Sitting in her Senate office, Hirono seemed pragmatic in the face of governmental paralysis and congressional dysfunction. Shutting down the federal government isn’t why she came to Congress, she acknowledged. Rather than pace the floors until the midnight deadline, she said she would meet with fellow Democrats to resolve the budget crisis and vote on the Senate floor.

“I just keep plugging away,” she said, hoping that Republicans will put an end to the crisis.

In other words, she’ll keep doing her job.

Barring a sudden turnaround, most federal employees will not be able to say the same on Tuesday morning.

Earlier in the day, civilian defense workers who are responsible for maintaining vehicles and maintaining the water and power systems at military bases, watched and waited.

“I think people are hoping cooler heads will prevail and a deal will get done,” Robert Lillis, the president of the machinists union said hours before the midnight deadline.

As the union representative for 3,000 civilian workers, Lillis said he couldn’t fathom why Congress hadn’t yet reached a deal. “People who are mature know they can’t get everything you want. You have to compromise.”

But there was little sign of that.

As expected, the Senate on Monday afternoon rejected a proposal that passed the Republican House on Sunday, stripping it of a provision that would delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act for a year. President Barack Obama and the leaders of the Democratic-controlled Senate have long said that the measure would be rejected and that there is no reason why negotiations, and the government’s ability to fully function should be held hostage to anti-Obamacare sentiment. Republicans in the House have not yet accepted to separate the two issues.

Republican efforts to reduce the full arrival of the Affordable Care Act to a basic requirement that all individuals get health insurance met with the Senate’s refusal to accept any delay in the start of “Obamacare.” They sent the measure back to the House.

With the shutdown kicking in, Lillis said his union members will report to work today to find out who will be deemed “essential,” and thus work, and who will be furloughed.

Those not considered crucial to the nation will have just four hours to collect their belongings and leave their place of employment. They will be paid for those four hours.

And so begins their time in limbo.

The shutdown is also slated to affect the offices of Hawaii’s delegation in Washington, D.C.

Members of Congress will continue to receive their salaries paid, but their staffs will not.

Members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation say they will be staying in the nation’s capital during the shutdown. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa will close her Washington, D.C. and Hawaii offices, her Chief of Staff Rod Tanonaka said in a statement to Civil Beat.

“We hope that any shutdown will be brief, and that we will be able to get back to the business of serving our district soon. In the event of a protracted shutdown, we will reexamine our staffing needs and possibly recall staff to provide services to those who rely on our office for assistance,” the statement said.

But for now, all of Hanabusa’s staff will be furloughed except for her legislative director, press secretary, and assistant.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard will have minimal staffing, but her phone lines will remain open. She posted frequently asked questions and answers about the shutdown on her website.

Hirono’s senior staff will continue working, although they will not be paid.

A spokesperson for Sen. Brian Schatz also said only senior staff will continue working and the neither the Hawaii or Washington, D.C. office will be able to take constituent calls or respond to inquiries. “With great disappointment, we announce that all constituent service work is legally prohibited from taking place and will be temporarily suspended,” his office said in a statement Tuesday morning.

While the civilian workers and others in Hawaii who are affected by the shutdown were making preparations, Congress appeared to be focused on making sure that people know who to blame, and on applying pressure on the other side to bend.

While members of both parties pointed fingers at the other side, Hawaii’s delegation is made up exclusively of Democrats. So after the House refused to accept a spending bill without delaying health care reform, Hanabusa issued a statement, “House Republicans had another opportunity to join with Democrats to pass a clean spending bill and prevent a government shutdown.

Referring to what she sees as Republicans‘ inability to rein in their tea party wing, she said, “Unfortunately, they continue to allow a small, extreme segment of their caucus to call the shots and pursue dangerous political posturing that will affect the livelihoods of Hawaii residents and Americans across the country. It is unconscionable that they are holding the U.S. and our economy hostage to feed their obsession with dismantling the Affordable Care Act and embarrassing President Obama.”

“The American people are frustrated – I don’t blame them – and they want leadership,” she said, adding that she wants to see House Speaker John Boehner “stand up to the reckless few in his party and do what’s right for our nation by bringing a clean spending bill to the floor.”

In a subsequent statement to Civil Beat after the shutdown, Hanabusa declared this “an embarrassing day for Congress.”

Hirono highlighted the stakes. “Republicans accomplished two things tonight, both bad. They have manufactured a crisis over Obamacare and shut down the government. And they have shown to the American people how far they are willing to go with their anti-compromise ideology, taking paychecks away from thousands of workers, families and businesses in Hawaii and millions more across the country. The country is being held hostage by a few dozen hardliners in the House who seem to be incapable of compromise. This is sad, and frankly stupid, considering the many other challenges our country faces.”

Sen. Schatz’s office issued a statement in which he also blamed the opposing party. “Despite knowing that a government shutdown would hurt seniors, veterans, families, and dedicated public servants, as well as put our economic well-being at risk,” Schatz said, “House Republicans have stubbornly refused to agree to fund the federal government.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard suggested that some of Republican criticisms related to Obamacare might be worthy of further discussion, but that a shutdown was the wrong path for them to take. “I am deeply disappointed by the political rhetoric and games that have been played over the past week. Valid concerns and issues have been raised, but are issues that should be debated and solved without holding our government hostage, with countless people in Hawaii and across the nation feeling the brunt of the painful impacts.”

Still, one thing was not as bad as it could have been for Hawaii. Members of the military will continue to be paid on time — rather than receive their compensation only after the end of the shutdown — because both chambers passed a measure specifying just that on Monday night.

Politico reported that the measure would also ensure that civilian employees of the Defense Department and Pentagon contractors continue to be paid — as long as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel determines that they “are providing support to members of the Armed Forces.”

About the Author