CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The partial government shutdown is causing mines to go uninspected and accidents to go uninvestigated and it's making scientists lose data that could ruin years of long-term research, according to panelists at a hearing in Washington called by Sen. Jay Rockefeller.
Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. He called the hearing to highlight the impacts of the shutdown on the economy and consumer safety.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said a two-week shutdown would trim nearly half a percentage point off of the nation's gross domestic product. The shutdown is in its 11th day.
Rockefeller and other Democratic senators at the hearing repeatedly blamed the shutdown on tea party Republicans in the House of Representatives.
"This shutdown is doing great harm to our country, and it was totally avoidable. It's like black lung," Rockefeller said. "All we needed was a House of Representatives willing to accept reality and the clean CR bill the Senate has sent them."
The "CR," or continuing resolution, the Senate passed would fund the government at current levels, including the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.
House Republicans initially demanded that the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, be delayed or defunded in exchange for funding the rest of the government. Many have since backed off that demand and are now asking for less-specific issues linked to budget negotiations.
So far, House Speaker John Boehner has refused to allow a vote on the Senate's continuing resolution. Instead, the House has passed smaller bills that would ensure the military is paid and fund individual agencies of the government, such as the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., seemed to sympathize with his Democratic colleagues' frustration with the House, but called on the Senate to pass the smaller funding bills.
"We are limited in what we can do in the Senate until the House does what it needs to do," Thune said. "Isn't having some funding better than having no funding?"
Capt. Keith Colburn owns the F/V Wizard, a crab-fishing boat in Alaska. He and other fisherman have been unable to fish because the federal inspectors who ensure that fishing is done sustainably have been furloughed.
"The fleet has invested millions just gearing up for the season," Colburn told the senators. "Each day tied to the docks costs thousands more."
The House has not passed a bill that would specifically fund the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency that regulates fisheries.
Colburn told Thune that the House's partial funding bills are not better than nothing.
"Not if you don't get funded," he said. "If the block is littered with families and one family has a great Christmas and the other families have nothing, it doesn't seem like a very good Christmas."
NOAA has sent home about 5,000 of its 12,000 employees.