Last GOP Govt Shutdown Hurt Real People—This One Could, Too

For at least half of his presidency, Donald Trump has itched for a budget impasse to force the government to close. “Our country needs a good shutdown,” he said last spring, to fix what he labeled a “mess” in Congress.

It looks like Trump’s getting his wish. What a mess.

No one knows how long this shutdown will last, in part because there’s never been one in which one political party controlled both the Congress and the White House.

But one thing is clear from recent history: government shutdowns have real consequences. They hurt people, our economy and our standing in the world.

During the most recent shutdown in 2013, which dragged on for 16 days, political extremists on the right pushed the nation over the brink to try to score points and undermine the Affordable Care Act.

Their gamesmanship forced about 800,000 civil servants off the job, many of them doing work in crucial programs that protect our health and environment. There was serious fallout from that  government shut down.

Those whose jobs were to protect the public from foodborne illness were off the clock during a salmonella outbreak that sickened at least 300 people.

Cleanup work completely stopped at 800 contaminated and toxic superfund sites. Most federal nuclear regulatory experts had to stop upkeep and inspections of nuclear material and waste.

The Environmental Protection Agency, charged with keeping pollution out of our air and water, nearly ground to a halt when about 94 percent of its staff was furloughed.

The shutdown forced the closure of hundreds of national parks, monuments and refuges—denying hundreds of thousands of visitors access to public lands and historic sites for hiking, camping, fishing and simply learning about the story of America.

The losses were steep, especially in the Park Service, which turned away more than 700,000 visitors a day, who customarily add about $76 million to the economy every day.

The impacts also were felt in every state, with some notably extreme cases. In Arizona, more than 30 people hoping to raft on the Colorado River were kept off the water. In Idaho, a rescue mission in search of a missing Boise woman was put on hold because the workers conducting it were furloughed.

In Arkansas, more than 85,000 meals for children were endangered because of cuts to nutritional programs. And in Connecticut, 13 Head Start programs serving 320 children were shut down.

Today we hear congressional Republicans insisting that any short-term funding measure include funding the Defense Department through the end of the fiscal year in September.

But they didn’t show the same concern during the 2013 shutdown, when, among the civilian workers furloughed from their jobs were those at military bases and operations in states such as Alabama, Delaware, Georgia Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota and Nevada. An additional thousands of National Guardsmen in numerous states also were furloughed.

Eventually, though, after 16 long days in October 2013, Republicans saw the light. It may have been illuminated by polling that showed an overwhelming majority of Americans blamed them for the shutdown and its many hardships.

They returned to the bargaining table and agreed to fund the government, initially for just a few more months, but ultimately, they didn’t have the stomach to put the country through another ideologically driven nightmare. In early 2014, a longer-term funding measure made it through Congress and was signed by President Obama.

At the end of the day—in addition to jeopardizing our air and water, toxic cleanups, scientific research, food safety testing, nutrition for children and much more—the 2013 shutdown extracted a steep financial toll on our economy to the tune of $24 billion.

Today, in January 2018, the question is, when will Republican leaders on Capitol Hill and in the White House decide to put people, not politics, first? 

It’s time for Trump and his fellow Republicans to do their job. They should immediately advance a reasonable, long-term spending measure that puts our government back in business, keeping vital health and environmental protections in place.

As they fulfill their constitutional duties to manage taxpayers’ money responsibly, they should resist temptation to try to slip in damaging environmental riders that cannot pass through the regular legislative deliberations. And they should forget the blame game.

Given Republican control of Congress and the White House, they have a responsibility to keep the government running. 

About the Authors

Scott Slesinger

Legislative Director

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