On Saturday, the US House passed (in a 231-192 vote) another measure to fund the federal government while delaying implementation of the unpopular, controversial Obamacare law and repealing a tax on medical devices. The disputed law, which funds abortion and would likely result in some form of care rationing, would not be repealed by the funding bill but rather delay implementation of the already dysfunctional Obamacare system for one fiscal year.
One portion of the funding measure is something which the entire American political spectrum can agree on, at least in theory: if passed the bill would fund the operations of the federal government and prevent a government shut-down. This agreement, however, seems to be entirely abstract. Influential Senators of both parties, as well as members of the Obama Administration, have announced their intention to refuse even to negotiate with House Leadership from any starting point other than one which grants all their demands with regards to the so-called “Affordable Care Act.” This recalcitrance makes a government shutdown vastly more likely than it would otherwise be and is based on a belief held by Senate President Harry Reid that House leadership, which has a track record of compromise in the national interest in such cases, will back down. It is difficult to say whether this will prove a miscalculation on the part of the Senator.
One thing is nearly certain, if the Congress fails to pass a continuing resolution funding the government, Democratic leadership and many elements of the mainstream media will quickly propagate a narrative which lays the blame squarely on the shoulders of conservative and pro-life elements in the House Republican Party.
Whether this assignment of fault is fair or not is not the topic under discussion here, however. My purpose is simply to ask a question about the impending (and almost certainly short-lived) shutdown. How dire will the consequences be?
Firstly, it is important to note that if the federal government shuts down the military, intelligence services, and front-line federal law enforcement agencies keep showing up to work. These are vital services and a “shutdown” of the type we have been hearing discussed does not effect them in the same way. Many of these bodies are funded through separate resolutions not currently under consideration in Congress.
Second, the police keep working in a “shutdown”, as do fire fighters, paramedics and hospital staff. These are generally state or private services and while it is hard to find any service at any level that is not tangled up with federal funds to some degree, there would be no immediate hit taken by our local first responders.
Third, in a “shutdown” Social Security, and Veterans benefits continue being paid. These may come more slowly as workers in the agencies that oversee these programs may be furloughed but the payments themselves tend to be required by law.
Fourth, it is unlikely that even federal courts would be forced to cease operations in a “shutdown.” Courts often receive various fees which could likely fund operations for some time. In addition courts are given power to decide their own staffing needs and could trim administrative fat if they needed to work with a tight budget for longer.
We should also remember that federal government shutdowns are far from the unheard of disaster many in the press present. There was an extensive shutdown in 1995 and not only did the country suffer no long-term ill effects, the economy of the day (excepting equity markets) actually continued to boom.
There would of course be negative consequences to a shutdown. Many services such as national parks would cease operations. Various administrative and regulatory bodies would send their employees home. There would also be economic consequences in the form of instability and lost confidence in financial arguments and the stain of nearly 1,000,000 federal workers being sent home without pay. These would be serious problems. Considered calmly as a whole, however, the consequences seem rather less immediately dire than many public figures would have us believe.
Is it possible that “shutdown” rhetoric is being used to bully conservative and pro-life elements in the congress to give up their principled opposition to an anti-life, pro-abortion law like Obamacare? If so, than it behooves all of us, even the majority who, like myself, want the politicians to find a way to avoid a shutdown, to consider carefully if the costs of a shutdown outweigh the benefits of leaders who are willing to take a principled stand for the vulnerable when they feel it necessary.