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Sen. Johnson: Government shutdown threats must end

House Republicans using the threat of a government shutdown in an attempt to defund health care reform are creating a false crisis that could harm the economy, Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., told reporters during a teleconference Wednesday.

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"By spending all their energy on defunding health care reform, Republicans are pushing us closer and closer to the brink of a government shutdown," Johnson said.

A group of House Republicans has threatened not to support legislation to fund the government into the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, unless Democrats agree to strip funding from the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

Johnson said a government shutdown would harm middle-class families and cost jobs.

"They are threatening to take away access to meaningful health care coverage to the nation's uninsured," Johnson said. "It's time to end these games by the extremist Republicans."

When asked whether he thought a government shutdown will actually happen, Johnson could not give a definitive answer.

"I hope not, but anything goes with the Tea Party," he said. "Allowing a government shutdown would be highly irresponsible."

Lawmakers may soon face another confrontation over the need to raise the $16.7 trillion federal debt limit by mid- to late-October. Some House Republicans are threatening not to raise the limit, which allows the government to borrow money to pay its bills, unless they get their way on health care reform, Johnson said.

Johnson, who noted that House Republicans have already tried and failed to stop the Affordable Care Act at least 40 times, praised the health care reforms.

"It is working to provide access to quality for health care for thousands of South Dakotans and millions of Americans."

Farm bill

When asked about the soon-to-expire farm bill, Johnson said a version of the bill the House appears prepared to consider is "very concerning," as it would cut $40 billion from food stamps.

"The cuts they're making would take away SNAP benefits from several million individuals," Johnson said, adding the cuts also would impact areas of high unemployment on South Dakota's reservations.

The House passed a slimmed-down version of the farm bill this summer without the food stamps program, which is now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The Senate has already passed a farm bill that cuts $4 billion from food stamps.

Johnson, who called the removal of food stamps from the farm bill a "dangerous approach," said he hopes the House will soon be prepared to confer with the Senate so a long-term farm bill can be passed.

The existing one-year extension of the farm bill expires Sept. 30. Without action to extend it, the farm bill would expire and much older, permanent laws would take effect, likely triggering extreme increases in commodity prices.

"It's very unclear whether we'll be able to complete action before the end of the fiscal year," Johnson said.

The current fiscal year ends Sept. 30, the same day the current farm bill extension is set to expire.

"We need to pass a long-term farm bill to give producers certainty," Johnson said, adding he believes a short-term extension is less likely this time around.