WASHINGTON -- Two Virginia congressmen fumed Tuesday about the damage being done to their state by the ongoing government shutdown and laid the blame squarely on a fellow Virginian, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R), for preventing lawmakers from voting on a bill to immediately end it.
During a press conference, Democratic Reps. Gerry Connolly and Jim Moran said the shutdown has hurt Virginia more than any other state. They pointed out that more than 185,000 Virginia residents are federal employees and federal spending represents about one-third of the state's entire economy. In addition, Virginia is home to a large number of veterans who are now experiencing delays in receiving their benefits.
It's been more than two weeks since the Senate passed a "clean" funding bill to open the government, with no strings attached. Typically, any House member could call up that bill and request a vote. But on Sept. 30, on the eve of the shutdown, Republicans quietly changed the House rules so only one person can bring that bill up: Cantor.
Moran said the rules change was "unprecedented" and has left Virginians, along with every one else, at the hands of Cantor to end the shutdown, even though he refuses to do so. The Senate-passed bill already has the votes to pass in the House and would be signed into law by the president, if it were allowed to get a vote.
"Hardest-hit state in the nation," Moran said. "Yet the one person holding this up is the person who represents the state capital, who is the majority leader of the House."
Connolly said there's "no question" the House has the votes to pass the Senate-passed bill, which is precisely why Republicans altered the rules to prevent anyone but Cantor from bringing it up. The rules change came as part of a broader effort by GOP leaders to use the shutdown as a way to extract other concessions from Democrats.
"Our people are hurting," Connolly said. "The power all along ... has been in the hands of a Virginian. Eric Cantor. So we call on him to use that power and allow a vote to reopen the government and to stop the suffering of our fellow Virginians."
Cantor spokeswoman Megan Whittemore dismissed the Democrats' complaints as them "playing politics" and said the whole point of the rules change was to force Democrats to negotiate on broader budget issues.
“The House acted in good faith to open up negotiations with Senate Democrats but [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid dismissed the idea of bipartisan talks," Whittemore said. "Democrats' partisan refusal to negotiate should not be rewarded with control of the House floor. While Democrats are playing politics and arguing procedure, Congressman Cantor is working hard to find common ground to reopen the government and provide fairness for all working middle class Virginians."
A previous version of this piece incorrectly identified Eric Cantor as House minority leader. He is majority leader.