A Government Shutdown Isn’t A Big Deal

UPDATE: No shutdown, check out this blog post for more.

The original post is below.

Seriously, the shutdown won’t be a big deal.  The government shuts down all the time for federal holidays. No one dies on Labor day because the government is shut down.  Yes, a federal holiday is different than an actual, budgetary shutdown, but not by much.

Social Security checks would still go out. Troops would remain at their posts. Furloughed federal workers probably would get paid, though not until later. And virtually every essential government agency, like the FBI, the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard, would remain open.That’s the little-known truth about a government shutdown. The government doesn’t shut down.

That’s right.  The essential government functions will continue like normal, because it would make no sense to stop fighting a war in Afghanistan just because Congress hasn’t passed a budget.

Fewer than half of the 2.1 million federal workers subject to a shutdown would be forced off the job if the Obama administration followed the path taken by presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. And that’s not counting 600,000 Postal Service employees or 1.6 million uniformed military personnel exempt from a shutdown.

So we’re talking fewer than one in four federal workers staying at home.

The air traffic control system, food inspection, Medicare, veterans’ health care and many other essential government programs would run as usual. The Social Security Administration would not only send out benefits but would continue to take applications. The Postal Service, which is self-funded, would keep delivering the mail. Federal courts would remain open.

The cherry blossoms in Washington would bloom as usual, and visitors to the city would be able to park and see them in all their glory around the Tidal Basin.

But they wouldn’t be able to take the elevator up the Washington Monument, visit museums along the National Mall or take a White House tour. National parks would be closed to visitors, a loss often emphasized in shutdown discussions.

The Capitol would remain open, however. Congress is deemed essential, despite its abysmal poll ratings.

The IRS wouldn’t answer its taxpayer hotline — at the height of tax-filing season. Under IRS precedents, the agency would process tax returns that contain payments. But people getting refunds would have to wait.

All sides say they don’t want a so-called shutdown like the two separate partial government closings in 1995-1996, when President Clinton and a then-new GOP majority in Congress were at loggerheads over the budget. Republicans took most of the political blame, and the episodes gave Clinton critical momentum on his way to re-election.

There haven’t been any shutdowns since then. The politics stink.

But from a practical perspective, shutdowns usually aren’t that big a deal. They happened every year when Jimmy Carter was president, averaging 11 days each. During President Reagan’s two terms, there were six shutdowns, typically of just one or two days apiece. Deals got cut. Everybody moved on.

In 1995-96, however, shutdowns morphed into political warfare, to the dismay of Republicans who thought they could use them to drag Clinton to the negotiating table on a balanced budget plan.

Yep. The Clinton machine turned government shutdown into a political issue. No surprises there, but I’m betting Obama will add this to a long list of grievances about the Clintons.

For more on the budget, take a listen to Wednesday’s KaibCast.

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