GOP senator: NSA furloughs ‘scared the hell out of us’

Updated
National Intelligence Director James Clapper arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee...
National Intelligence Director James Clapper arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee...
Evan Vucci/AP

Thanks to the federal government shutdown, children are being denied head start meals, cancer patients are being turned away from clinics, and private companies in states with strict immigration laws are unable to hire new employees.

None of that has budged right-wing factions of the Republican Party’s position that the Affordable Care Act should be delayed or repealed in exchange for funding the federal government, but during a Senate hearing Wednesday, one Senate Republican spoke out about the shutdown.

“You scared the hell out of us!” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told two of the nation’s top national security officials during a Senate hearing Wednesday. “I want the American people to know that there are shutdowns before 9/11 and there are shutdowns after 9/11! And there’s a huge difference.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander were scheduled to testify before the Senate Wednesday about the NSA’s surveillance program and possible avenues for reform. Following a public backlash caused by leaks that showed the public was unaware of the scope of the government’s surveillance programs, several legislators have proposed far-reaching reforms to post-9/11 national security laws. But while both officials reiterated prior defenses of the NSA, the conversation swiftly veered into how the intelligence community was dealing with the government shutdown. More than 70% of federal workers in the intelligence community have been furloughed. “The damage will be insidious,” Clapper told the committee. “Each day that goes by, the jeopardy increases.”

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who for weeks urged Republicans to shut down the government rather than fund the Affordable Care Act, put the blame straight where he thought it belonged–on the president. “I don’t think President Obama should be playing politics with this,” said Cruz, who recently apologized for comparing a law extending health insurance to millions of Americans to the  Bataan Death March, a Japanese war crime committed during World War II. “He should be stepping forward to address this problem right now.”

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley also seemed concerned about whether the shutdown would endanger national security. “Does America remain safe even with a shutdown?” He asked Clapper. “I don’t feel that I can make such a guarantee as each day of this shutdown goes by.”

Clapper likely wouldn’t be able to “guarantee” American safety with or without the shutdown, but even with possibility that the intelligence community’s ability to prevent a terrorist attack could be diminished, Republicans are likely to remain focused on the real threat to the American way of life: The possibility that millions more Americans could end up with health insurance coverage.

GOP senator: NSA furloughs 'scared the hell out of us'

Updated