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Sentinel & Enterprise: Rep. Niki Tsongas: Clarifying Obamacare, government shutdown

Over the last seven days we have witnessed a failure of leadership unlike anything we have seen in recent memory.

Hundreds of thousands of public and private employees are off the job, service members who have returned from combat duty may lose the college tuition assistance they've been promised, clinical trials for cancer patients are delayed, veterans are being told that they will have to wait even longer to have their benefit claims reviewed, and the list goes on and on. Ultimately, millions of Americans will be impacted by a government shutdown that was entirely preventable.

But most inexcusable is that the government can reopen today if the U.S. House of Representatives was given the opportunity to vote.

The Senate has passed a bill that would temporarily fund the government, giving elected officials from both parties time to negotiate a longer-term funding agreement. If House Speaker John Boehner brought this bill to the floor of the House of Representatives, it would pass with the votes of 200 Democrats and about two dozen Republicans who have publicly committed to supporting it.

On Sunday morning, Republican leaders reiterated again that they will not allow the House to vote on a clean bill to keep the government running, continuing their effort to use the government shutdown, and the potentially disastrous default on our national debt, in a fruitless attempt to undermine the Affordable Care Act. The ACA was passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the president, declared constitutional by the Supreme Court and validated by a majority of voters in the last election when the president was re-elected. To shut down the government unless the ACA is dismantled is the height of irresponsibility.

While pressure builds on Republican leaders to allow America's elected representatives to vote on reopening the government, my office continues to serve as a resource to the many constituents who have been impacted and who have contacted us with questions, concerns and opinions. I have supported efforts to ensure that our Defense Department employees and members of our National Guard are able to continue working to secure our country. I supported a bill that will ensure that all federal workers who are currently furloughed as a result of the shutdown will get paid when the government reopens. And throughout the duration of the shutdown, I will not accept a paycheck.

In 2011, I co-sponsored legislation to deny members of Congress pay during any period when the government was shutdown. This year, I again joined my colleagues in introducing that legislation -- titled the No Government No Pay Act of 2013. While that legislation is not yet law, I felt it was important to "put my money where my mouth was." I believe that if we as a body cannot do our job of keeping the government running, we should not be entitled to be paid during that period.

I agree with the Sentinel & Enterprise that House Republicans are pursuing a harmful and counterproductive political tactic and that there are more effective ways to move forward that would not hamstring government and do damage to our economy. I support responsibly fine-tuning the Affordable Care Act so that it can optimally serve the American people. But as the Sentinel & Enterprise suggests, this issue should be dealt with on its own, separate from those concerning the budget and the nation's debt ceiling. We cannot create an environment in which one group recklessly threatens our economy unless it gets what it failed to achieve through our democratic process.

The path forward is clear. The House must be given a chance to vote on a short-term funding bill, with no political strings attached, and reopen the government. And we must come together to negotiate a long-term budget agreement, but not at the expense of the health of millions of Americans or the health of our economy.