Government Shutdown Reality Check

26 Feb

Rage ≠ Responsible Government

As most Americans know by now, the budget debate deadlock in Washington could easily lead to a shutdown of the Federal government. If a budget (or continuing resolution) is not passed before Friday, March 4, the shutdown will occur. President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Speaker of the House John Boehner have all said that they want to keep this from happening. If it does, however, the responsibility will land squarely on the partisan grandstanding of the House.

Sen. Reid and the President have both made it very clear that they will not be blackmailed by the Tea Party minority in the House. The recent budget passed under Boehner’s leadership includes a lot of red meat for the Teabaggist base and not a lot of substantive cuts that indicate a real desire to reform government or reduce deficits (or create jobs, for that matter). The partisan attacks on abortion rights, women’s rights, public broadcasting, and health care reform make very little budgetary difference and create a poison pill that will stop the proposal cold in the Senate. Rather than negotiating in good faith, the House seems bent on creating a train wreck of petulance.

So what would really happen if there is no budget compromise and the Federal government shuts down? Let’s look at some facts:

  • Federal workers would not be paid during the shutdown. They would receive retroactive pay (with no interest) once government is running again. Contractors (all the jobs shoved off the Federal payroll by Reaganite “smartsizing”) get nothing. Members of Congress get full pay and benefits with no delays because their pay is authorized by the Constitution. As so often happens, the more you make, the less you lose.
  • The wars will go on. Funding for active military efforts is exempted. Processing of military benefits claims, however, will freeze. You can fight, but you’d better not leave service or get injured.
  • Federal parks, museums, and other cultural centers will close, depriving all Americans of access to their cultural history and natural beauty.
  • Processing of passport and visa applications and renewals will halt. This will have a major impact not just on vacations that families have already paid for, but will affect business as well.
  • Social Security payments will be made, but new applications and any support functions will be halted.
  • Aid and grant payments to states will be halted, creating even deeper holes in already crippled state budgets.
  • Toxic waste cleanup at over 600 Federally-designated sites will be halted.

Of course, the ripple effect of a shutdown is even more complicated. Everyone knows what it’s like to get back to work after a few days off. It takes time to get caught up. When the whole business of government has to recover at the same time, it could be weeks before things are running smoothly again, even if the shutdown is relatively brief.

And what about those Tea Party priorities? Since the Federal money has already been disbursed, Planned Parenthood will not shut down if the government does, nor will Public Broadcasting. Instead, millions of decent, hard-working civil servants will be furloughed, reducing household spending and injuring American businesses, while House Republicans draw their pay and enjoy their Federal healthcare, abdicating their responsibility to govern. The shutdown is such bad government, in fact that even Michele Bachmann (R – Can’t Find It On A Map) has said it’s a bad idea. You know your leadership strategy is lousy when it crosses the Bachmann line.

How'd that last shutdown work out, Newt?

The last major shutdown was something of a standoff between then President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich. At the end of the day, the Republican congress that forced the standoff came out very badly indeed. Gingrich’s infamous petulance cost him credibility and resulted in national ridicule.

If this House chooses to paralyze the country again, choosing misguided principle over hard facts, the blame falls squarely on Boehner and his Tea Party cohorts. The President and the Senate must not make their tax cuts mistake again and should continue to stand firm on a responsible budget. Compromise with fiscal terrorists? I prefer not to.

(Some research for this story done with thanks to The Christian Science Monitor, MSNBC, CNN, and The Huffington Post. I was initially inspired by the lighthearted but hard-hitting Feb. 25 Tom the Dancing Bug strip.)

13 Responses to “Government Shutdown Reality Check”

  1. hoboduke February 26, 2011 at 10:03 am #

    The continuing resolution to fund the government is out there. However, unlike a man drowning that is extended a helping hand from death, the Senator Ried is huffing and puffing how this is unacceptable. Death rather than help is his stance. Of course, how dare the newly elected congressional members, actually do what they were elected to do! Let’s pretend that we are all trillionaires, and the death that will crush our children is only an illusion. Somehow reality will interfrere in this Alice in Wonderland world of Democrats. The Democrats desperately want to distract us form this life or death struggle. They throw in distratctions about gay marriage, gay military parades, and protect the unions as delicate endangered species.

    • penguinlad February 26, 2011 at 10:40 am #

      Sorry, Hobo, but you’re the one viewing this through the looking glass. Yes, there are two continuing resolutions. One, from the Senate, would maintain a flat budget through March while negotiations continue and a responsible, bipartisan budget is achieved. The other, from the House, says “accept our budget for two weeks or else.” That’s not collaborative government.

      The new members of the House were elected on a platform of fiscal responsibility and job creation. Nothing about the partisan framework of their proposed budget does those things. Instead, they focus on far-right, non-budgetary issues to whip up enthusiasm from the base. More importantly, their victories in the House did not lead to a total government takeover, clearly signalling that the American public wants collaborative government that actually accomplishes something.

      All the distraction in this case is being practiced by the Tea Party extremists in the House. They wave abortion, health care, and public broadcasting as smoke screens while doing nothing to improve government or create jobs. As for gay rights and collective bargaining, those issues have been raised almost exclusively by the Republicans. Bush/Cheney used gay marriage as a wedge in the 2004 elections, making that topic a permanent part of Republican governance, despite its irrelevance to our budgetary woes. The Republican governor of Wisconsin made unions an issue by squandering his state’s tiny surplus and allowing the legislature to grind to a halt so he could crush civil service rights.

      You are entitled to your opinions, but your facts are insanely out of whack.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 26, 2011 at 10:52 am #

        Thank you for chiming in Penguinlad, but I feel it necessary to add my comments based in fact here as well. Deficits can be addressed by raising revenue, plugging tax loopholes, putting people to work, and developing the economy long-term in all the ways the President has discussed. But deficits are not what really matters to conservatives.
        Conservatives really want to change the basis of American life, to make America run according to the conservative moral worldview in all areas of life. I also want to underscore the dirty manipulative tricks Gingrich is playing at again. This is reminiscent of the colossal waste of tax payer money when Gingrich called for the impeachment of President Clinton. Shall we look at facts: Gingrich would like to remind everybody that marriage is between one man and one woman whom you abandon riddled with cancer on her hospital bed while you fuck the shit out of your mistress whom you later marry and cheat on with a third woman while screaming with Godly moral outrage about the infidelities of the president–yes that is the moral high ground Gingrich stands upon. Gingrich a sanctimonious, sleazy, slimy, slandering, schmuck. (Thank you JoeMyGod)

      • hoboduke February 27, 2011 at 5:14 am #

        It seemed our President instructed our Attorney General to ignore the law of the land signed by President Clinton in regard to enforcing the state’s right to set regulations for marriage. Republicans may have used a wedge, but our fearless leader seems to have a wedgie. Why do we care how he feels about a law? Some days I don’t feel like paying taxes. Does that erase a law?

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt February 27, 2011 at 7:12 am #

        You blithering, blind, bigot! So I suppose when Lincoln refused to uphold the laws of slavery you would have condemned him as well? I feel as though I should not pay taxes! I don’t have 1,100 civil rights that you have as a heterosexual. Maybe you need to read a history book, before shouting off about facts of which you are not familiar.

  2. Jennifer February 26, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

    Thank you so much for posting this Michael! I wasn’t entirely sure what this government shut-down could mean and it’snice to have it spelled out.

    Personally, I’m relieved that those money-grubbing federal employees will have to ‘make sacrifices to ensure that those millionaires will be able to keep eating their lunches out and buy their new clothes *in season*. Could you imagine the embarrassment if Pelosi had to wear 2010 Jimmie Choos or Boehner had to buy Men’s Warehouse? Dodging a bullet here…

    • rhulshofschmidt February 26, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

      Thanks, Jen. I was in the same boat. Lots of coverage using the phrase “shut down” and precious little detail. While I appreciate your sympathy for the Congressillionaires, I suspect Boehner already shops Men’s Wearhouse. Have you seen him?

      • Jennifer February 26, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

        fair point Robert… fair point…

  3. webwordwarrior February 27, 2011 at 7:27 am #

    Great post, Robert, and very informative, thank you.
    Hobo, you really don’t seem to understand government or history. Presidents have refused to defend laws that were found to be unconstitutional for a very long time (as Michael points out). It’s part of our system of checks and balances. President Obama did not refuse to enforce the law, by the way, he said that if the law is challenged in court his administration would not waste taxpayer money and government time defending a law that the best legal advice indicated would be struck down as unconstitutional anyway. That’s responsible leadership.
    FWIW, you may want to note that Saint Reagan not only followed this practice but issued at least one signing statement saying he would not even follow a law that he was in the process of signing. That’s a much more aggressive precedent. Just curious, was he wrong too?

  4. penguinlad February 27, 2011 at 7:36 am #

    Great points, WebWordWarrior! Here’s a link to the signing statement for anyone who wants to see it:
    Strange that no former Speakers of the House came out against Reagan when he took that action…

    • webwordwarrior February 27, 2011 at 7:48 am #

      Thanks, Penguin, for your kind words and for the link. I meant to supply it in my comment! [blush]

  5. Paul April 5, 2011 at 6:10 am #

    Not to put too fine a point on it, you say: “◦Federal workers would not be paid during the shutdown. They would receive retroactive pay (with no interest) once government is running again. ”

    That, unfortunately, is not guaranteed. In the past this has been the case, but it is not a certainty and with the baggers in the king maker position, it is looking less likely than I’m comfortable with.

    • rhulshofschmidt April 5, 2011 at 6:17 am #

      Excellent point, Paul. In the five weeks or so since I wrote this, the rules of engagement have changed quite a bit. If Boehner caves to the Tea Party, I think the odds of retroactive pay do go down.

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