What the shutdown means: Unnecessary pain.

What the shutdown means: Unnecessary pain. October 1, 2013

Congress has a job. A big part of that job involves passing a budget to fund the government.

Congress didn’t do it’s job, so there is no budget and hence, as of midnight, the government is shut down.

What does that mean? Pain. Unnecessary pain for a lot of people — people who, unlike Congress, have been doing their jobs. And pain for people who would have been doing their jobs if an economy crippled by a string of congressionally manufactured crises hadn’t kept them from being able to have a job.

At WonkBlog, Brad Plumer offers an explainer on “Absolutely everything you need to know about how the government shutdown will work.”

Here are the key points:

• Yes, this is Congress’ fault.

There are wide swaths of the federal government that need to be funded each year in order to operate. If Congress can’t agree on how to fund them, they have to close down. And, right now, Congress can’t agree on how to fund them.

• The shutdown doesn’t mean everything stops.

The laws and regulations governing shutdowns separate federal workers into “essential” and “non-essential.” … A whole bunch of key government functions … carry on during a shutdown, including anything related to national security, public safety, or programs written into permanent law (like Social Security).

Plumer has a longer list of agencies and programs staying all or partly operational. The list of agencies and programs shutting down is longer, and it includes a lot of things you might not think of as part of the federal government — state and municipal functions that rely in whole or in part on federal funding.

• “The government estimates that more than 800,000 out of some 2.1 million federal workers (excluding the Postal Service and active-duty military) will get sent home if the government shuts down.”

This is what a government shutdown does with your tax dollars.

Put all that together and consider the economic implications of this. The nation’s largest employer is placing more than a third of its workforce on indefinite furlough — that’s more than 800,000 people suddenly not spending money. Whatever your business is, you now have 800,000 fewer potential customers than you had yesterday.

The federal government is also the biggest single contractor in the country, and all those contracts are now on hold or in limbo. And all sorts of things businesses rely on — from SBA loans to e-verify checks for hiring non-citizens — will be suspended, creating a series of speed bumps that will slow down just about every company in the country in one way or another.

So it’s not just those 800,000 people who will be feeling this pain. It’s the hundreds thousands of other people who will get laid off, or furloughed, or face wage freezes. And the hundreds of thousands of others who will continue to be unable to find work as the economy struggles against this self-induced headwind.

The last government shutdown, in 1996, cost taxpayers $2.1 billion. And what did taxpayers get in exchange for that $2.1 billion? Nothing.

Spending $2.1 billion for nothing in return is not smart, wise or good. And this government shutdown is likely to be even more expensive.

So that’s what this means: Pain. Unnecessary pain.

That’s why religious leaders are pleading with Congress to get its act together and do its job.

(Not all religious leaders, of course, this is America, a land of religious liberty featuring such robust religious pluralism that we even have whole denominations who don’t give a damn about human suffering. Heck, we’ve got whole branches of pseudo-Christianity that celebrate it.)

Ezra Klein helpfully reminds us “what the shutdown is really about” — which isn’t just Congress failing to do its job, but Congress deliberately refusing to do its job:

This is all about stopping a law that increases taxes on rich people and reduces subsidies to private insurers in Medicare in order to help low-income Americans buy health insurance. That’s it. That’s why the Republican Party might shut down the government and default on the debt.

If that seems reckless, heartless, stupid and destructive to you, you’re not alone. It also seems reckless, heartless, stupid and destructive to many Republicans. Here’s a list of “49 Republicans Who Say Shutting Down the Government Over Obamacare Is a Big Mistake.” And writing for The American Conservative, Rod Dreher sounds like he’s about to start a NALT Republicans Project as he recoils in horror from the destructive stupidity of Congressional Republicans:

They are a barking-mad pack of ideologues, is what they are. … When I think of the Republican Party, I don’t think of principled conservative legislators who are men and women of vision [and] strategy. I think of ideologues who are prepared to wreck things to get their way. They have confused prudence — the queen of virtues, and the cardinal virtue of conservative politics — with weakness. …

What are the probable long-run consequences of shutting the US Government down over Obamacare? Do the Congressional Republicans care? Do they care what kind of damage they are doing to the ability of Congress to legislate effectively on all kinds of matters? The damage they are doing to the economic stability of the United States? This kind of brinksmanship might — might — have been defensible during the Obamacare fight, but today? I can’t see it. I can’t see any good coming out of this, at least any good that stands to outweigh the bad.

“Ideologues who are prepared to wreck things to get their way,” is only half right. They are wrecking things, but that will not result in them getting their way.

It will only result in pain. Lots and lots of unnecessary pain.




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