Government shutdown. That is a phrase that has been tossed around by the media and politicians in Washington for weeks. For many the sound of a government shutdown may sound a little concerning. In a way it is, but what does a government shutdown really mean and is it really as apocalyptic as some people are making it out to be?
Let me first address a simpler question: “Why does a government shut down?” Wikipedia explains:
A shutdown can occur when a legislative body (including the legislative power of veto by the executive) cannot agree on a budget financing its government programs for a pending fiscal year. In the absence of appropriated funds, the government discontinues providing non-essential services at the beginning of the affected fiscal year. Government employees who provide essential services, often referred to as “essential employees”, are required to continue working.
With that out of the way let’s look into what a government shutdown actually means. Will federal prisons close down and violent criminals be allowed to flee in their orange jumpsuit to rape and pillage innocent civilians? Will the military be forced to stand down and take unpaid leave? Will life as we know it come to a screeching halt as soon as the Treasury Department runs out of money? No, no, and no!
When a government shutdown is ordered it does not mean that the entire government stays home from work. Critical government functions such as the military, FBI, CIA, Congress, and other vital government operations are largely unaffected by shutdown orders. Only the non-essential parts of government (ironically labeled so by the government) are affected. PBS lists a few examples of the non-essential government operations that will likely be effected in a shutdown:
At least, these were some of the effects of last set of shutdowns that occurred in 1995-96. During this time, our government had two funding gaps, affecting the country in a number of ways. A Congressional Research Service Report lists some of the consequences of those most recent shutdowns:
- Over 1,000,000 federal employees were sent home during the combined 1995-96 shutdowns. Major federal work force furloughs occurred in of the Department of Education, the Department of Veteran Affairs, Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Social Security Administration, to name a few.
- National museums and monuments closed down, resulting in an estimated loss of 2 million visitors.
- 368 National Park Service sites also closed, losing 7 million visitors and around $14.2 million per day in tourism revenue.
- 20,000-30,000 foreign visa applications per day went unprocessed, as did an estimated total of 200,000 U.S. passport applications.
- Health, welfare, finance, and travel services for veterans were restricted.
- New Medicare applicants were turned away, and new patients at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center were not accepted.
- Furloughs at the Centers for Disease Control resulted in limited information regarding the spread of contagious diseases.
- Over 3,500 bankruptcy cases were suspended.
Considering the list above, if Congress does not get a budget passed soon and you were planning on taking a trip to a national museum or needed a visa application processed quickly then you could be up for some disappointment. Otherwise your life will go on as normal. That is hardly the end of the world!
America has survived government shutdowns before. While I do hope that Republicans are able to pull off a budget to prevent another government shutdown, it is only if a solid budget is passed that significantly curtails spending and is a step towards sharper budget cuts to come in the near future. Otherwise, I say go ahead and shut the government down!
If the government were to shut down it might be a pleasant reminder for millions of Americans to realize that their lives will continue perfectly fine without the infestation of government agencies working daily to degrade our liberties all while on the taxpayers’ dime. Maybe then Americans will clearly see that they are the engine that runs this country – not the government!