Shutdown Shenanigans

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BY TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE – House and Senate majorities are engaged in a game of budgetary chicken, hurtling the federal government toward a possible shutdown in a week’s time. Shutting down the government is not responsible — neither in a fiscal sense nor an administrative one. Instead House Republicans and Senate Democrats need to work with one another to forge a compromise and the President needs to get off the sidelines and help broker the deal.


The continuing resolution (CR) that was enacted in December to fund government at last year’s spending levels expires on March 4th. If another CR or final spending bill for fiscal year 2011 isn’t signed into law by then, most federal employees will be told to stay home without pay, the national parks and federal facilities will close, passports and visas will not be issued, new veteran’s assistance and social security applications will go unanswered and countless contractors will be idled. Basically everything and anyone not related to national security or safety of human life is stopped.

According to the Congressional Research Service, when the government shutdown in 1995 and 1996 (five days and 21 days respectively) 800,000 workers were furloughed, more than 350 national park service facilities were shuttered, the Center for Disease Control stopped monitoring, National Institute of Health didn’t accept patients and tens of billions worth of contracts (and contractors) went unpaid. So while it didn’t spell the end of the world, it was certainly chaotic and disruptive. And afterward we paid contract penalties and furloughed federal workers for their time.

To be sure, uniformed members of armed services, FBI, air traffic controllers, Transportation Security Administration personnel and many others will be at work. Social Security checks will be paid (as mandatory spending it is not subject to the spending bill process, farm commodity payments and Medicare would go forward as well). Interestingly, Congressional staff could be furloughed or kept on unpaid as essential staff.

Bottom line is this, a pox on both Houses (and the President) if they can’t swing a deal. Elections have consequences—the biggest of which is you have to govern. Staring down the barrel of a $1.65 trillion deficit this year, with another enormous FY12 deficit predicted in the President’s budget, we need for all sides to step up to the plate and do their job.

Recently the House passed a year-long CR that would fund government at more than $60 billion below FY10 levels and have proposed a two-week CR that would prorate the cut. Senate Democrats, countered with a proposed 30-day CR at FY10 levels and pursued a year long spending freeze.

The status quo is unacceptable. But drawing a line in the sand defending an arbitrary dollar amount of cuts promised during the campaign, is just as illogical. We need to find some significant cuts, some revenue in the couch cushions and deal with entitlement spending. But the cuts have to be logical, sustainable and thought out. RIFing (Reduction In Force) federal employees only to hire them back later doesn’t makes sense either. And funding government through a series of stop gap CRs guarantees inefficiencies and bad administration. Imagine if you didn’t know what your family’s budget would be for the year, it would be hard to plan anything.

The House Speaker, John Boehner, has said that he wants some cut from FY10 spending levels in any CR — short-term or full-year — but he hasn’t specified a level. And it now appears Senate Democrats are considering some cuts. TCS has proposed some low hanging fruit cuts of more than $350 billion over the next five years, many of which can create savings tomorrow. And the President’s budget contained billions of terminations, reductions, and savings, many of which can easily garner bipartisan support.

But none of this will happen unless all sides in Washington stop the games and get to work. It is incumbent on all involved to make the budget process work for the American people.