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U.S. Rep. James McGovern blasts colleagues for government shutdown in speech to Amherst-area business leaders

U.S. Rep. James McGovern, center, visits the Amherst Survival Center in July.

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

U.S. Rep. James McGovern, center, visits the Amherst Survival Center in July. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »

“What happened was very irresponsible and reckless and dangerous and there needs to be meaningful pushback here,” he said.

McGovern’s comments came during the annual Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast, at which local political leaders summed up the latest news from Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill for the group of nearly 80 people. McGovern, a Democrat from Worcester, represents the 2nd Congressional District.

State Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg and state Rep. Ellen Story, both Democrats from Amherst, also addressed the gathering, mainly on economic issues, in answers to questions posed by a panel of three people, Amherst Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe; Rich Horton, president of Community Staffing in Northampton; and Lyne Kendall of the Massachusetts Small Business Center at the University of Massachusetts.

During the hour-long session, the legislators voiced support for universal health care and urged that the emphasis be placed on improving, not rejecting, efforts to provide it. They also focused on the economic opportunities presented by partnerships between business and the colleges in the area, and expressed optimism for an improving economy.

In addition, in response to a question posed by O’Keeffe, Rosenberg said the prospects for the passage of state legislation allowing UMass to partner with private developers to build student housing on campus is “very good,” as long as the university comes up with a proposal. That is an issue of particular interest in Amherst, where tensions are high over efforts to construct student housing in neighborhoods near UMass.

Washington battle scars

McGovern said he is dismayed by the changing nature of the Republican party.

“There’s been a split,” he said. “The traditional conservatives are kind of gone and what has taken over it is a libertarian wing that does not believe in a public sector.”

He said its objective is not to reduce spending but to eliminate programs. “When you’re trying to find that middle ground, there is no middle ground. It’s all or nothing.”

McGovern said the recent fight in the House of Representatives started with struggles over funding transportation appropriations at sequestration levels set by the Republicans, which he opposed. Still, he said, he was willing to back them in an effort to keep the government running. But when the plan couldn’t garner enough Republican support, he said, “we went into this whole tailspin of holding everything for ransom.”

The government shutdown that resulted will cost the taxpayers $24 billion, he said.

And though the country has avoided defaulting on it bills by temporarily resolving the squabble over raising the debt ceiling, McGovern said he won’t be surprised if lawmakers are back at it again in January or February.

“This really is a moment for people all across this country — I don’t care what your political philosophy is — to send simple message to the members of Congress: ‘Do your job.’ ”

Small business issues

Kendall told the lawmakers that, in polling business owners about their concerns, she found that the impact of providing health care coverage to workers is a major worry. She wanted to know how the legislators would spur the economy and tweak the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

McGovern said that while Obamacare is not flawless, “It’s not the disaster Republicans make it out to be.” He acknowledged that the rollout has been “rocky” and work is needed to make the program better. He mentioned the medical device tax that has come under fire as one area to re-examine. He also cited computer glitches that have stymied enrollment. “Let’s fix it,” he said. “The goal should be to make it better and make it workable and make it affordable.”

As for boosting the economy, he said, investment in infrastructure and training programs for workers is important. But, he added, the days of counting on big government grants to help out are gone. Instead, he said, the area colleges and UMass will drive what is made here and what business develops.

“We need to figure out what these partnerships are,” he said.

In any given day, Rosenberg said, there are 200,000 jobs available in Massachusetts. Attempts must be made to figure out ways to get people trained to match those jobs, he said, adding that 80 percent of the state Legislature’s effort is trying to build a robust economy.

Story also told the group that the state Legislature is working on welfare reform aimed not at cutting off financial support but at helping people get jobs.

“We are trying to come up with helpful and constructive things to do for people,”she said.

McGovern told the group that he sees a brighter future.

“With all the doom and gloom in Washington, I’m basically an optimistic person,” he said. “One of the best ways to reduce the deficit is economic growth. If we don’t screw things up badly in Washington, things will continue to get better and you’re going to see business here get better as well.”

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