D.C. Buzz: Health care center breathes easier

February 14, 2018 GMT

President Donald Trump’s next bestseller might have to be titled “The Art of Staying on the Sidelines.” He huffed and he puffed a lot last week leading up to the epic two-year budget deal, even suggesting a government shutdown wouldn’t be such a terrible thing.

But in the end, Trump was a non-player, imparting less of a bang than a whimper.

For Sen. Richard Blumenthal, that was just fine. “If we’d listened to the president, there would have been a shutdown to the detriment of the country,” he said.

Sleep deprived after a virtual all-nighter Thursday into Friday, Blumenthal was sitting in a cold car Friday afternoon outside Charter Oaks Health Center, a federally qualified health care center that mostly serves Hartford’s low-income population.


Had the budget deal not passed in the wee hours Friday, Charter Oaks was prepared to lay off 40 of its 163 employees and drastically reduce service at its three clinics.

“I’m about to tell them we reauthorized their funding,” thus averting layoffs and cut hours, Blumenthal told me by phone. (Yes, I apologized for keeping him in a cold car while I peppered him with questions.)

Actually, Charter Oaks employees already had heard the good news. T.J. Clarke, the center’s public information officer, stayed up all night to keep tabs on the votes in Senate and House.

At least he thought he was awake. “My wife told me ‘I heard you snoring,’ ” he said.

In any event, Clarke was certainly cognizant for the 5:30 a.m. vote in the House that clinched it. He relayed the news to the rest of the Charter Oaks team.

“The worst is over,” he said. “Now we can carry on providing services to the people in our neighborhoods without a lot of nail-biting.”

Little time for sleep

And speaking of sleep deprivation, Rep. Elizabeth Esty figures she’s OK with 1-3 hours of sleep or 5 or more. But anything between 3 and 5 is a “danger zone,” as she put it. Like her fellow lawmakers, Esty has gone through what amounts to an endurance test of her physical limits.

For the record, she got a little over three hours’ sleep Thursday night into early Friday. Awaiting word of a possible House vote, she dined with daughter Sarah. Her staff was manning the office in shifts.

She fell asleep around 11 and was awake to see the Senate vote after 2 a.m.

Instead of falling back to sleep, she trudged over to the House a little after 3 and was there for the series of votes beginning after 4 and culminating in the final 5:30 vote that broke the government shutdown ongoing since midnight.


Then it was a nap on the plane back to Connecticut and a full round of meetings.

Ultimately, Esty caught up on sleep, but rescheduling all the canceled gatherings back home in her 5th Congressional District has been a challenge.

“I’m still catching up on meetings I’ve had to cancel” because of extra time spent in Washington waiting for Congress to break through its self-inflicted case of indecision.

“I blew seven days because I had to be in D.C.,” she said. “It takes a lot to catch up.”