In rural Georgia, U.S. government shutdown gets mixed reception

Reuters

By Steve Norder

ROME, Ga., Oct 2 (Reuters) - In the bustling, tree-linedbusiness district of Rome, Georgia, deli owner Charlie Schroederlauded Republican Representative Tom Graves this week for hispivotal role in shutting down the U.S. government for the firsttime in 17 years.

"It is like the sequester," said Schroeder, 64, referring tothis year's deep cuts in government spending. "Theadministration made us think the world will end. As far as I cansee, nothing was hurt. We need to do whatever we need to get ridof Obamacare."

The shutdown, a result of the standoff between Republicansand Democrats over President Barack Obama's controversialhealthcare law, has sent as many as 1 million federal governmentworkers home without pay, including many White House staff, anddisrupted some services - including closing national parks,threatening to delay the publication of sensitive economic data,reducing research programs, and shuttering a flu monitoringprogram.

In Rome, a city of about 36,000 people in the northwestGeorgia congressional district represented by Graves in hissecond full term, it has pretty much been business as usual thisweek. The federal courthouse and Social Security office wereopen; the only unusual closure was the local Internal RevenueService office.

"There is nothing wrong with that," said Schroeder, smiling.

His views were shared by some - but not all - among abouta dozen people contacted by Reuters this week on the streets andinside businesses in Graves' overwhelmingly Republican Southerndistrict, more than 600 miles (966 km) from Washington, D.C.

David Doss, a 58-year-old real estate developer whodescribes himself as a die-hard Republican, said Graves and hisHouse colleagues went too far.

"It is irresponsible on the part of Congress to shut downthe government and be unwilling to compromise on any issue,"Doss said. "I certainly am disappointed in (Graves') involvementin this strategy."

Doss said he feared the tactics would hurt the Republicanparty in future elections.

A boots-wearing conservative from Ranger, Georgia, Graves isamong a band of House Republicans who have sought to tiecontinued government funding to measures that would undermine Obama's signature Affordable Care Act.

He authored a plan backed by dozens of members to delayObamacare reforms for a year. He also was one of eight HouseRepublicans named by Speaker John Boehner to take part in formalnegotiations with the Senate.

But any frustration with the partial shutdown of thegovernment seems to carry little political risk for Graves onhis home turf, where widespread distrust of Obamacare helped himget elected.

Residents of the small towns and rolling hills that make upthe state's 14th Congressional District are mostly white andoverwhelmingly Republican, according to U.S. Census and pollingdata.

Each of the last two Republican presidential candidates drewmore than 70 percent of the district's vote, as did Graves inhis re-election victory last fall.

The former state legislator was first elected to Congress ina special election in 2010 on a wave of support from the TeaParty movement and, along with fellow conservatives electedlater that year, vowed to repeal the national healthcare reformlaw.

Indeed, Graves' strident stand against Obamacare will likelyboost his standing with local constituents, said Merle Black, apolitics professor at Emory University.

"He has solidified his hold on that district, whateverhappens," Black said. "He's representing what his people want."

Of about a dozen calls from constituents to Graves'Washington office on Tuesday, the first day of the shutdown,most were supportive of the congressman's efforts, his officetold Reuters.

In Rome, Georgia, City Manager John Bennett said the citycould face problems if the shutdown dragged on.

The state uses federal money to maintain area highways, forinstance, and the local housing authority also receives fundsfrom the federal government, he said.

"There would be long-term consequences on the way we dobusiness, primarily through the state," he said.

Chris McHaggee, owner of the Claremont House Bed &Breakfast, said he worried about a drop-off in business fromgovernment employees and retirees who will be without apaycheck.

Like others in Rome, he mostly took issue with thefinger-pointing and lack of compromise among Congress members.In a statement on Tuesday, Graves blamed the ongoing shutdown onDemocratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's refusal tonegotiate.

Obama accused Republicans of shutting down the governmentover "an ideological crusade" against his healthcare law.

"Shutting down the government to prove a point is not whatwe send our elected officials to Washington for," said McHaggee,adding he was not affiliated with a political party and hasvoted for Democrats and Republicans in the past.

"It's like people taking their toys home kind of thing andnot really solving the problems," he said.

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