As a shutdown of the federal government becomes more and more likely, a couple facts become more and more pertinent.
One is that a shutdown, particularly a prolonged one, would have negative impacts for all Americans. Another is that the impasse threatening governmental operations is solely, unequivocally the making of far-right Republicans in the House of Representatives.
Unless Congress passes spending bills for 12 major agencies, the federal government will run out of funding at midnight Saturday, causing those agencies to close for the foreseeable future. Senate leaders believe they have bipartisan support for at least a short-term extension, a fact that shines attention on the inability of the House to reach an agreement.
For some Americans, the idea of a federal shutdown is a feature and not a bug; anti-government sentiment has a long and often-celebrated history in our nation. But those who believe that government only affects “other” people should take a closer look.
Analysts at Goldman Sachs, for example, estimate that a shutdown would reduce economic growth by 0.2 percentage points for each week it lasts. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, a shutdown that started in late 2018 and continued into 2019 resulted in a loss of approximately $3 billion to the economy. At the macro level, that impacts everybody from investment bankers to baristas.
At the micro level, programs such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children have contingency funds for the beginning of a shutdown. But those funds could run out during a prolonged closure.
Meanwhile, millions of federal employees – including active-duty military and Transportation Security Administration workers – would continue working but without pay. They likely would receive back pay once a shutdown ends. Social Security, the U.S. Postal Service, Medicaid and Medicare are largely self-funding and would remain in operation, although services might be curtailed.
The scenario could hit close to home. Federal appropriations account for a little more than 25 percent of our state’s operating and transportation budgets, and Washington agencies have been instructed to develop contingency plans for an extended shutdown.
That helps explain the impact of a shutdown but does little to examine the reason: The House Freedom Caucus is holding the nation hostage.
In June, President Joe Biden and congressional leaders reached a budget agreement to increase the nation’s debt limit and avoid a default. Now, far-right members of the House are ignoring that agreement and making demands to cut spending and gut aid for Ukraine. With Speaker Kevin McCarthy overseeing a slim Republican majority, he has neither the power nor the political acumen to work around the extremists in his party.
The situation points to an obvious solution. If McCarthy would strike a deal that could appeal to moderate Republicans and draw significant Democratic support, he could end the charade that far-right Republicans pretend is governance. But the Freedom Caucus has threatened to remove him as speaker, rendering McCarthy as a puppet for a noisy minority.
The situation threatens to damage the American people and the American economy while further eroding faith in our elected officials. As Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said: “Government shutdowns are bad news.” But even that simple fact is too complex for the jesters in the House.