Another government shutdown possible in January? -- Gazette.Net


With the 16-day federal government shutdown in October still fresh in many people’s minds, U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. said Monday he was hopeful that most in Congress would want to avoid another shutdown, which some believe could be possible when funding expires Jan. 15.

But it’s still possible some congressional representatives could push for another shutdown then, rather than come to a budget agreement, Van Hollen said to some employees at a Rockville laboratory of life sciences company Fisher BioServices.

“You would think if you got burned by putting your hand on a hot stove, you wouldn’t do it again,” he said. “But I don’t know.”

Van Hollen (D-Dist. 8) of Kensington toured the lab and spoke to employees, calling the business one that he “often uses when speaking in Congress as an example about why it’s so important we invest” in the Bethesda-based National Institutes of Health. Fisher BioServices received $27.2 million worth of awards from NIH in fiscal 2011, about double what the company was awarded in 2010, according to NIH figures.

During the past year’s sequester budget cuts, NIH was forced to cut 5 percent, or $1.55 billion, of its fiscal 2013 budget. That meant about 640 fewer research grants were awarded and 750 fewer patients were admitted to its clinics, officials said.

Fisher BioServices, which has about 330 employees in Maryland, including 260 at its Rockville lab, had enough work through its private segment that the lag in government business did not require the company to lay off employees, said Dennis Barger, vice president and general manager of the company. “We were fortunate,” he said.

Many employers in the state could not say the same. Rockville information technology business Terrapin Systems was to lay off 173 employees starting Nov. 15 after losing a contract with the National Cancer Institute, according to the state. A company representative could not be reached to confirm the layoff figures.

In September, Maryland lost 8,500 jobs, including 4,300 in the private sector, according to U.S. Department of Labor figures released Friday. Last month, the state lost 400 total jobs, though the private sector increased by 600 jobs.

Montgomery and Frederick counties saw a combined job loss of 2,300 jobs in September, though those counties regained some 1,500 positions last month, according to federal figures.

Fisher BioService’s parent is Waltham, Mass.-based Thermo Fisher Scientific, which has about 39,000 employees worldwide. The life science research product giant saw revenue rise 8 percent last year to $12.5 billion from 2012.

The across-the-board sequester cuts are a “dumb” way of reducing the budget, said Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee. He said he is in negotiations with Republican leaders such as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to replace the sequester cuts but wasn’t sure about an outcome. If the sequester cuts continue through next September, he said as many as 800,000 “potential” new jobs will be lost.

Democrats want to fund non-defense departments such as health at higher levels than the budget proposed by Ryan, Van Hollen said. Negotiators have a goal of reaching a budget deal of Dec. 13, he said.

Ryan has said in published reports that he doesn’t think there will be another shutdown.

A recent survey of military families by First Command Financial Services found that 81 percent were not confident that Congress would avoid another shutdown in January. The October shutdown may have cost the United States 120,000 new private sector jobs and $2 billion in lost productivity, according to a federal government report.