Effingham Daily News
Now that a potential crisis was averted by a last-minute deal that ended the 16-day federal government shutdown last week, the congressman who represents much of central and southern Illinois said Monday that it's not something he wants to endure again.
"I think the potential for another government shutdown is less than before," said U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville. "This shutdown wasn't a good experience for anyone."
After some last-minute negotiations from Senate leaders Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, the Republican-controlled House voted 285-144 and the Democratic-led Senate voted 81-18 to pass a continuing resolution that will fund the government through Jan 15, 2014 — and lifts the debt ceiling limit through Feb. 7, 2014. President Barack Obama signed the resolution, ending the shutdown and the furloughs of about 400,000 federal employees.
Shimkus said he voted for the continuing resolution for two reasons.
"First, we kept the sequestration numbers intact and agreed to decrease the amount of discretionary spending," he said. "Secondly, the economy is still in a malaise — not nearly where it should be — and the blow of a possible default would have been devastating."
Federal spending is divided into one-third discretionary — half of which is military spending — and two-thirds entitlement spending, which includes items, such as Social Security, Medicare and interest on the national debt.
Shimkus said there are three key elements to avoiding another government shutdown.
First, he said, a joint Budget Committee will meet in an effort to pass an annual budget, something that has not been done on the federal level for several years. Shimkus is not optimistic that the December talks will bear fruit.
"I'm not optimistic about December," the congressman said. "I think the Democrats will ask for higher taxes, and we will push for more spending cuts."
Shimkus said the continuing resolution debate in January should be less contentious than the gridlock this fall for one reason.
"Obamacare will not be part of the debate," he said. "We're to the point where it will succeed or fail on its own merits."
Shimkus added that the recent deadlock was stimulated by Republican desires to elimimate portions of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
The congressman said the biggest single financial issue facing the nation is entitlement spending.
"We need to reform entitlement programs, especially Social Security," he said.
Shimkus noted that when the Social Security Act was originally passed in the 1930s, the average American male lived only two years beyond the initial retirement age of 62. Now, with the retirement age at 67, men are living an average eight to 10 years beyond that age. Moreover, the average life expectancy of an American woman is more than 80 years old.
The congressman emphasized that these changes would not affect today's seniors.
"We're talking about my age group and younger," said the 55-year-old congressman, adding that he would consider voting in favor of raising the retirement age to 70.
Shimkus added that Congress may also consider means testing as a way to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits.
"Should millionaires be able to draw Medicare?," he asked. "That's a question we'll have to consider."
When Shimkus returns to Washington today, he will have more immediate concerns than the federal budget. As chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce's subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, he will be chairing discussions over an update to the Toxic Substances Control Act.
"It hasn't been reviewed for 30 years, and it needs to be updated," he said.