Shutdown spurs Kansas protest; GOP delegation stands firm
TOPEKA (AP) — Liberal activists protested Wednesday against U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins over the federal government's partial shutdown, but she and members of Kansas' all-Republican delegation said they're seeking fiscally responsible legislation on the budget and raising the debt ceiling.
About two dozen people gathered outside Jenkins' office in Topeka, demanding that she support "clean" measures to fund the entire federal government and increase its borrowing limit, without conditions. The event was sponsored by the liberal group MoveOn and drew Democrats and labor union representatives.
Kansans in Congress have backed efforts to delay or repeal key parts of the federal health care overhaul and called on President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats to negotiate with Republicans. In the House, they've voted to fund specific programs while talks continue on the budget, an approach Obama has rejected. They've also suggested that an increase in the debt ceiling be tied to greater restraints on spending.
Jenkins, representing the 2nd District of eastern Kansas, has received additional criticism because she's the House GOP caucus vice chairwoman. Her staff said she was included on the team of negotiators for a White House meeting Thursday.
"Right now, we want her to open our government up," said Dan Brennan, a MoveOn organizer from Topeka.
Jenkins noted that the House has approved multiple bills with bipartisan support to fund parts of the government. Over the past week, she and the other Kansas Republicans have voted for measures to fund parks, veterans' benefits, assistance to poor mothers and salaries for federal workers.
"There is enough blame to go around for why we are in this fiscal mess today, and we need both parties to work together to change course," she said in a statement following the protest. "The American people expect more from their leaders, and it is time to stop with the political games and start discussing real, sustainable solutions."
The protesters outside Jenkins' office blamed Republicans for the shutdown because of their strong opposition to the 2010 health care law and efforts to include measures to defund the law in the budget. Steve Robinson, a Lawrence resident whose wife is a furloughed Bureau of Indian Affairs worker, called the tactic "blackmail."
The Rev. Joshua Longbottom, pastor of Topeka's Central Congregational Church, told his fellow protesters: "Citizens need access to health care — am I wrong?"
Many Kansas Republicans view the health care law as flawed, burdensome and harmful to the economy. They've seen glitches in the rollout of an online health insurance marketplace for Kansas as evidence supporting a delay.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Kevin Yoder, who represents the 3rd District in the Kansas City area, said an increase in the debt ceiling must be tied to spending changes.
"This is about a president who is unwilling to lead and who is unwilling to even come to the table to negotiate," Roberts said.