10/04/2013 08:54 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Government Shutdown Hurts West Virginians

In reflecting on nearly 30 years in the U.S. Senate, I can hardly think of a time when a group of lawmakers has acted so recklessly as now.

We are four days into the House Republicans' shutdown of federal government services to millions of Americans. And it's all because of petty partisanship. West Virginians deserve better from Congress.

Overseeing the operations of our federal government is a profoundly serious responsibility, entrusted to Congress by the Constitution. During this debacle over the government shutdown, a vocal minority of House Republicans is imperiling our democracy by threatening to bring down the country if their demands are not met.

This group of House Republicans doesn't speak for most Americans, and perhaps not even the majority of Republicans. In fact, it is widely known that if the full House of Representatives was given the chance to vote on a straight government funding bill -- without any political add-ons -- it would pass with a strong bipartisan majority. But Speaker John Boehner refuses to allow such a vote, opting instead to kowtow to this unreasonable wing of his caucus.

Whatever their political goals may be, the consequences of House Republicans' tactics are proving devastating for our state. The small businesses that are the backbone of West Virginia's economy can't get the financial assistance they need to help keep our hard-working men and women on the job. The shutdown threatens our coal miners, too -- regular inspections of underground mines are have come to a halt, critical safety inspections are being drastically reduced, and Black Lung claims are not being processed.

Without federal government funding, services for foster care assistance are not available; if you're waiting for a new Social Security claim to be processed, the wait is going to linger; and as we approach flu season, the CDC can't support flu vaccine efforts and track flu trends. Many other federal operations in the state have closed their doors including our national parks, NASA's IV&V Center, and the Green Bank Telescope. Our veterans can't appeal their benefits claims, thousands of National Guardsmen have been furloughed, and with FEMA employees off the job, there's no way to respond in a meaningful way if unanticipated flooding should occur. The list goes on and on.

We are at a standstill that needs to end now, but things could even get worse. In the next two weeks Congress must also act on a debt ceiling increase, but it appears that House Republicans are willing to put us at the brink of default. The United States must honor its financial obligations, just like all West Virginians routinely do, or face catastrophic consequences to our economy. Simply put, failure to act on the debt limit will hurt jobs and retirement savings, interrupt Social Security and veterans benefits, and hike interest rates on loans and credit cards.

I don't know why our state's two Republican Members in the House voted to, in effect, shut down the government. Instead, they should have demanded that Speaker Boehner give them, and all of Congress, the opportunity to vote on a clean funding bill. This simple measure would have kept the government running and thousands of West Virginians from being furloughed.

I've served West Virginia in the Senate long enough to know that, even in times of deep disagreement, it's never right to hold the government hostage to a political agenda. It doesn't need to be this way now. It shouldn't be this way now. The Senate already passed a funding bill that would keep the government open without playing political games. Now it's time for these House Republicans to get over their destructive behavior and allow a vote on a clean funding bill. Until then, they're going to prevent the federal government from functioning, which hurts West Virginians and all the American people.