News Commentary: Shutdown

Sonali Kumar ’14
Contributing Writer

For many Americans, the fifteen-day government shutdown had little or no direct impact. Strong opinions abounded, but the failure of Congress to pass a debt ceiling bill was still a distant concept for most people. At first, each party in Congress seemed more interested in placing blame on the other than in reaching a resolution. Republicans were determined not to compromise, since they disapproved of the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare; and Democrats, including President Barack Obama, refused to sign a bill that included severe cuts to Obamacare.

The shutdown affected certain people more than others. More than 800,000 federal workers and many federally funded state workers were furloughed, and whether these workers would be compensated was unclear. Many were worried about being able to pay bills. It was also unclear whether SNAP benefits, or food stamps, would be sufficient past November if the shutdown lasted through Nov. 1. Many tourists visiting D.C. were forced to adjust their vacation plans, as the Smithsonian and Holocaust museums were closed. People visiting national parks were not allowed in, and those who had already been camping overnight were told to make other arrangements with a two-day notice. On the positive side, D.C. skateboarders seem to have enjoyed the last two weeks.

The shutdown had ripple effects as well. For example, restaurants in D.C. and some businesses located near national parks experienced a severe loss of revenue. As a consequence , $24 billion was lost, and, according to S&P, economic growth in the fourth quarter decreased from the 3 percent prior to the shutdown to 2.4 percent.

Although essential services continued through the shutdown, many agencies were forced to set priorities. The Food and Drug Administration continued to inspect meats and eggs, but cut back on grain inspections. State inspection programs remained unaffected.

The bill, which ended the shutdown on Oct. 16, states that the government will fund operations until the end of January and will raise the debt ceiling until mid-February. The end of the shutdown does not equal an end to the health care debates, which will continue to undergo changes in spending in the next few weeks, which will allow both parties and chambers to have more time to reach a reasonable agreement.  The bill also includes stricter income verification requirements for insurance. As the government returns to normal circumstances, certain privileges, such as the cafeteria in the Department of the Interior, remain closed. However, furloughed workers will receive back pay, leaving many workers ecstatic to enjoy their first relatively indulgent meal in two weeks.

As William M. Christian, the director of government affairs at non-profit organization Citizens Against Government Waste, suggested, one positive outcome of the shutdown may be cutting back on programs that were unnecessary. Of course, what seems unnecessary to one group is essential to another, so these cuts may not be beneficial to all. The shutdown may also have taught both parties an important lesson: that refusing to work together has dire consequences for the entire country. If the shutdown had not ended, the government would have defaulted on its debt, possibly sparking a financial meltdown.

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