WASHINGTON — Shortly after the federal government officially shut down at midnight, Rep. Lee Terry was sitting in his office waiting for the next round of votes.
“It's unfortunate, something that I didn't want to have happen,” the Omaha Republican said of the shutdown. “But my hope is that we can resolve this very quickly and it will not significantly impact people.”
Terry said he expects lawmakers to be able to find a compromise in the next day or two and reopen the government.
After passing various proposals that were all shot down by the Senate, the House asked the Senate to enter formal negotiations on a compromise. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rejected that.
Before the shutdown, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, had a simple explanation for the game of legislative pingpong that had been happening between the House and Senate Monday night.
“It's a bunch of nonsense,” Harkin said, criticizing House Republicans for refusing to pass the Senate's legislation.
Through much of the voting, Iowa and Nebraska lawmakers were sticking with their parties.
But Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, did vote against a proposal that would have delayed by one year the health care law's mandate that every individual American obtain health insurance. It also would have eliminated the government contribution to the health insurance premiums of members of Congress and their aides. Hard-line conservatives like King had expressed disappointment over that proposal, saying it didn't go far enough.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., supported the proposal to delay the mandate and eliminate the government premium contribution.
“You're trying to again stop one of the more harmful effects of the health care law and frankly trying to get some kind of package that could potentially pass,” Fortenberry said.
Fortenberry's support came despite his concerns that eliminating the premium contribution would prevent non-wealthy people from serving in Congress and drive long-serving, dedicated public servants off Capitol Hill and into the private sector.
Fortenberry also has pointed out that the government contribution to their health insurance premiums is essentially the same employer-provided benefit that most American workers receive.
But that's a tough sell in the current environment.
“Unfortunately it's kind of a proxy for the deep, deep frustration that is being felt by so many people over this law,” Fortenberry said. “I'm doing everything I know how to do to find this balance between keeping the government open and trying to stop the harmful effects of the law.”
Leaving one vote before the shutdown, Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said it was disappointing not to see more debate in the Senate on proposals put forward by the House, which she described as open to compromise. She also faulted President Barack Obama's statement earlier in the evening.
“I don't think it's helpful when you have the president of the United States say he won't negotiate,” Fischer said. “That's not helpful at all.”