Government turns a deaf ear to the public, and the freeze in science research risks our global leadership in Day 16 of the GOP government shutdown.

800px-Pete_Seeger11 courtesy wikimedia commons.jpg

“We were, neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on.”

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy—Pete Seeger

That famous Vietnam-era anti-war song referred to the futility of President Lyndon Johnson’s decision to continue waging a war that was clearly un-winnable and increasingly unpopular. It’s a song the Tea Party Republicans in the House should listen to as they continue to reject bipartisan proposals from the Senate and the pleas of their party’s House leadership. Polls are showing the Republican party is at record-low approval ratings, their original legislative strategy is in ruins, the economy and the stock market teeter uncertainly, yet they continue to push on.

I’ve been reporting each day on some of the immediate impacts of the shutdown on vital protections for our health and for our environment, as well as the many economic impacts beyond the direct effect on federal workers. As the shutdown drags on, it is starting to have longer term effects on many basic government functions which will take time—and money—to restore.  Our international prestige is beginning to suffer as our GOP-induced predicament becomes a global punch line. Our friends and allies question our financial stability, while our enemies and competitors for global influence make gains at our expense.

At home, by not taking care of basic day-to-day functions, we’re gumming up progress and delaying solutions to important problems. Today I highlight two examples. On the one hand, we are making our government deaf to public input by forcing the cancellation of the regular public engagement that keeps our democracy humming.  On the other, the freeze of many federally funded scientific research activities and the shuttering of our major research agencies directly hurts the source of our long-term economic growth, technological innovation.

It is time for the Tea Party Republicans to turn away from the destructive course that is hurting the country and the rest of their party. They should acknowledge that their original goal of defunding health care has failed and the best way out is to come to a deal quickly -- one that gets the government, the American people, and the economy back to work as soon as possible.  Speaker Boehner needs to let the full House vote on spending and debt bills so that majority can rule.

The government goes deaf

The shutdown is posing plenty of immediate risks to public health and safety and the environment, as I’ve been documenting for the past two weeks. But more subtly, it is fraying the fabric of our democracy, which depends in large part on public participation in the making of our laws and regulations. Every week, federal agencies meet with industry representatives, community members, advocacy groups, scientists, economists and other experts to get input so that rules to protect our health and environment are as efficient and effective as possible. These workshops and listening sessions, which often take months to plan and involve participants from around a region or around the country, are being cancelled left and right. The Tea Party shenanigans have forced the government to go deaf.

Take just a few examples. The Environmental Protection Agency has cancelled the first two of 11 planned “listening sessions” around the country, scheduled for this week in Boston and Philadelphia, on proposed new rules for limiting the carbon pollution from existing power plants that drives climate change. Ironically,  some of the same Republicans who gave us the shutdown have been complaining that EPA hasn’t scheduled enough of these listening sessions, which can last as long as a full day. 

Power plant pollution  Image courtesy of njaj

Other examples abound.  Called off last week was a stakeholder workshop for makers of refrigerators, air conditioners and similar appliances on how to cut the use of HFCs, a class of potent climate-warming gases, while continuing to improve energy efficiency.  And officials had to postpone two separate experts’ workshops, one on Long Island last week, one in Arlington, Virginia, this week, to help develop strategies for protecting endangered whales and other marine mammals from offshore energy projects.

The anti-science GOP is really anti-jobs, anti-U.S. leadership

The Tea Party and many conservative Republicans have long taken issue with scientific findings, but now their shutdown is preventing science even from being conducted. It has largely turned out the lights at all the federal government’s research agencies, with scientists sent home and projects shelved.  Five Nobel Prize-winning researchers currently work for the federal government--four of them are furloughed and unable to conduct their ground-breaking research.

Researcher by taoty courtesy freedigitalphotos.jpg

I’ve mentioned before that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s flu surveillance program has been shut down, and that CDC has had to call back experts to deal with a major salmonella outbreak linked to raw chicken from California. The CDC is our nation’s chief public health watchdog, but two-thirds of its personnel have been furloughed. And the GOP is happy with this?

Yet it’s even worse elsewhere. The staff at the National Institutes of Health, which searches for cures for everything from Alzheimer’s, bird flu, heart disease, cancer and blindness to mental illness, alcoholism and drug addiction , has been cut by three-quarters. (Patients already enrolled in trials at the clinical center in Bethesda, Maryland, are still getting treatment, but no new patients are being admitted.) And at the National Science Foundation, 98 percent of staff have been sent home. Crippling these national resources is beyond stupid.  Scientific research is the source of the innovation that has kept the United States a world leader such industries as biotech, telecommunications, and information technology. Being anti-science really means being anti-jobs and anti-U.S. leadership.

See other environmental and public health hits I've chronicled so far during the government shutdown:

Photo credits: wikimedia commons and wikipedia