We are on the (yawn) brink of another Government shutdown

We are on the (yawn) brink of another Government shutdown
US Capitol, Pixabay Images

Stockpile food, buy ammunition, lay in medical supplies, the Government may shut down, and we are heading to the Stone Age, right? Not so fast. Things are not as dire as they appear.

What does not shut down?

insertThis morning, the Twitter-in-Chief went on a tweet-storm to strike fear into the hearts of his followers. It struck fear in my heart that the Commander-in-Chief could be so rank ignorant about the US Government.

What Donald Trump tweeted is frighteningly inaccurate. In a shutdown, the US Military, along with Air Traffic Control, The FBI, and other police and security forces, the Post Office, and Federal Courts are open. Courts may have some disruption in some cases, but the Courthouses remain open and hold trials, and hear motions.

Social Security checks continue to go out as does SNAP food assistance, and Medicare checks keep going out to Healthcare companies and physicians. Veteran’s hospitals continue to operate on a regular schedule.

Federal Prisons remain open, and the Treasury T-Bill auctions continue. Budgets notwithstanding, our irresponsible deficits must continue to be paid.

What services close?

insertIf the Government shuts down, and you want to visit the Smithsonian or tour national monuments, you are out of luck. The doors will be locked. All the National Parks will close. If your taste is to go camping in subzero temperatures at the Denali National Park in Alaska, then reschedule your trip.

If you are applying for a US Passport, expect delays. Likewise, people who are waiting to get into experimental treatments at the National Institutes of Health may have their paperwork delayed.

Businesses who must apply to the US Government for permits, such as oil and gas exploration will be held up until after the furlough ends. Many government websites, including those used for research by academics and business, may not be maintained. Mortgage approvals by people like the VA, or FHA; or small business loans from the SBA face delays in processing and approval. One bit of good news for those who despise the IRS, furloughs hit that agency too.

In all, roughly 40% of the US Government will be on furlough. There is no guarantee that government workers will be paid lost wages once the Government reopens. However, in the 15 shutdowns since 1981, all government workers collected their back pay.

Why no shutdowns before President Carter?

I worked with a man who once was the Chief of Staff for Speaker Tip O’Neill. He was not a brilliant legislative strategist, but he was one of the most likeable people I have ever met and was relentless in pursuing a result. The year was 1990, and President GeorgeH.W. Bush told Congress that he would not sign any budget that didn’t include a plan for deficit reduction.

He made good on his promise by vetoing a spending bill sent to The White House that did not include a plan to reduce the deficit. The veto resulted in a three-day government shutdown.

Our clients included businesses with oil and gas interests, and trade financing guarantees at risk. Lobbyists have several terms for clients who are in a panic: the client’s hair is on fire, or the client is wearing a hair shirt. We had six or seven show up at our door in an absolute panic.

Our office had a large, round conference room that looked down the Potomac River. We assembled the lobbying team, and assignments were handed out. My colleague was a Democrat and was barely civil to Republicans. He did not like me at all, although I liked him a great deal. As far as he was concerned, I had horns, a tail, and walked on cloven hooves.

insert2An intern was in the meeting, and asked the question, “why have shutdowns at all?” As long as I live, I will not forget this partisan Democrat who thought all Republicans were subhuman answering the intern, “Because of Goddamn Jimmy Carter.” I was stunned. I had not heard him say a disparaging word about any Democrat. I turned to him and said, "Welcome to the GOP, Gary." My comment was met with a glare, and then a smile.

President Carter’s Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti issued a legal opinion that if Congress did not pass a spending bill before the Government runs out of money, all activity must cease. Before Civiletti’s legal edicts, agencies functioned uninterrupted during periods of funding gaps. If expense needed to be caught up, they were paid automatically as part of a deal.

Civiletti’s opinions were made Federal Law in 1982 by revising the Antideficiency Act. In their eternal wisdom, Congress laid out severe penalties, including possible jail time if a Federal Worker dares to work at their job during a Federal shutdown.

Who wins and who loses in a shutdown?

President Reagan was a master of brinkmanship with the Congress. He correctly calculated that Congress would take the blame for a shutdown. That has been the case in most government closures. During the most prolonged closure of the Government in the middle 1990s with Newt Gingrich as Speaker, President Clinton came out as the clear winner in the 21-day showdown.

A deal was struck between the GOP and Democrats yesterday that would keep the Government open. President Trump rejected the agreement. His party controls the Congress. If the Government closes, it will be Republicans who take the brunt of the blame. With an ally like President Trump, the GOP does not need to worry about the Democrats sinking their political ship. Donald Trump is shooting holes in the bottom of the boat, and the Democrats will not shoulder the blame for midterm losses. As a Democrat who wants to see our party take control of the Congress, let me say to President Trump, you are doing an excellent job. Keep it up, and thanks for your help.

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