House Republicans and Democrats are engaged in a game of political “chicken,” in which each side tries to push the other as far as possible toward an outcome that neither side wants, gambling that if a shutdown occurs it will be the other party that incurs the public’s wrath.
The House on Tuesday passed a stopgap proposal to extend funding for two weeks. It contains $4 billion in cuts that President Obama and House Democrats had suggested earlier, so it allows both sides to save face. The Senate is expected to have the bill on the president’s desk today and Obama likely will sign it.
That will give Congress another two weeks to bicker about spending issues that should have been settled back in September.
If they fail, some government offices will shut down temporarily and some employees in offices that remain open will be furloughed until Congress passes it and the president signs the bills restoring funding.
Services likely to be delayed by a shutdown include processing of new Social Security claims and Medicare applications, passport applications, bankruptcy proceedings, Internal Revenue Service operations, some veterans’ services, national parks, museums and monuments, toxic waste cleanup and clinical health research.
Active-duty military, national security operations, air-traffic control, federal prison security, federal courts, the Postal Service and the banking system would not be affected.
A shutdown, brought about by an unwillingness to compromise on government spending, will not save the government a penny. Every employee who is furloughed will be paid, and water and electricity will continue to flow to shuttered buildings.
Rather than saving money, a shutdown will add to government expense. The last time Congress reached such an impasse, in 1995-96, a series of shutdowns cost the government an estimated $100 million a day, for a total of up to $1.25 billion.
Furloughing employees causes backups in the work that should have been done on the days the offices were shuttered. Employees’ checks may be delayed, which could make the employees late in paying their bills. Entrance fees to national parks and museums will be lost during a shutdown. Tax refunds will be delayed. Citizens must wait, without good reason, for services they need and have every right to expect.
It is disgraceful that the men and women we elected to represent us in Washington are so entangled in ideology that they cannot do the work we hired them to do.
It is disgraceful that they even are willing to consider the possibility of interrupting government services rather than budge a millimeter.
Most disgraceful of all is that this Congress is still arguing about funding for fiscal 2011 — the deadline for passing the budget for this fiscal year was five months ago!
President Obama has already submitted his budget for 2012, and that’s what Congress should be arguing about now.
If members of Congress are not able to reach a compromise sufficient to keep the government operating, both sides should feel the heat.