The autumn-like weather in DC gave way to hotter temperatures and even hotter debate over the federal budget last week when Congress allowed the fiscal year to expire without passing either it's annual appropriations bills or a continuing resolution to keep government operating in the new fiscal year.
I officially go back to work from my maternity leave next week, but it’s hard not to follow what’s been happening. Watching CSPAN on a Saturday night is not usually my activity of choice (though I think I saw some potential SNL skits) but that is exactly what I did. From Ted Cruz’s faux filibuster, to the opening of health care marketplaces on the day of the government shutdown, it’s fascinating. The Washington Post’s Wonk Blog posted a list and description of every previous government shutdown. While I’m sure we all remember the last extended Newt Gingrich-President Clinton showdown, those other 16 may be surprising to some. It seemed to be a regular occurrence during the Carter and Reagan Administrations.
But seventeen years without a shutdown seems like a pretty long time, and there are very real affects of a government shutdown. The most visible is at National Parks. We saw World War II Veterans flood the World War II memorial last week and National Park Rangers look the other way while they moved barricades. I could imagine my grandfather, who served as a mechanic in England and France during World War II, doing the same – and probably having some choice words about not being able to enter. Living in the DC area I’ve been met with barricades and closures when visiting our regular places for a jog or letting the kids burn off energy (Seriously. Sleep. I’m tired at the end of the day – why aren’t you?!). The playgrounds, parks and trails we regularly visit are run by the National Park Service.
We can find other places to go, of course, but there are 800,000 federal workers without paychecks right now. This is a scary prospect for them. Work at the National Institutes of Health has stalled, the Environmental Protection Agency cannot issue new permits to businesses, there are children who cannot attend Head Start programs, lack of food and nutrition benefits and very serious defense and national security implications, among others. There is also important work being done without compensation for now– like the Capitol Police, who sprang into action when a woman tried to ram a barricade at the White House, a car chase ensued, and the Capitol complex went into lockdown. The Capitol Police received a well-deserved standing ovation on the House floor. . . but they deserve some certainty and security in their jobs and paychecks as well. Just because their paycheck stops or the funding for federal programs aren’t there doesn’t mean the threat or need does not exist.
All signs point to this government shutdown potentially lasting a couple of more weeks. A meeting at the White House with Congressional leaders bore no optimism from either side. We are headed to the debt limit deadline of around October 17 without a continuing resolution – either temporary or extended. Our own Emily Holubowich was quoted in CQ with her theory that this will all converge and hopefully be resolved around mid-October. All of America is watching and it is, frankly, difficult to see what the path forward is without some compromise from both sides.