Jewish Journal


October 1, 2013

We should shut down the hysterics



The U.S. Capitol on Oct. 1. Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters

“It’s as dangerous as the break-up of the Union before the Civil War!”

That hysterical response to the government “shutdown” is not from a rabble-rousing blogger overdosing on Red Bull, it’s from Democratic Senator Tom Harkin (Iowa).

He’s not alone. I’ve rarely seen such a feeding frenzy of hysterical commentators jumping on Republicans for “shutting the government down.”

Look, if Republicans were immature and irresponsible for igniting this “shutdown” in the first place, then their hysterical critics are no less immature and irresponsible.

You can call this latest episode of governmental shrinkage stupid, idiotic or simply partisan politics, but if you respect the English language, you won’t call it a “shutdown.”

I’m not saying I’m happy that so many governmental workers will have their salaries be “furloughed,” although that is certainly better than having their salaries be terminated-- as has happened to millions of employees in the private sector.

What I’m saying is that we would improve the national conversation if, before jumping to hysterical conclusions, we would calm down and look at the facts of this “shutdown.”

[Rob Eshman: The Shutdown]

Let me quote at length from a report by former Justice Department lawyer Hans A. Spakovsky in National Review Online (NRO):

“The truth from the experience of prior shutdowns, applicable federal laws, Justice Department legal opinions, and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directives, is that crucial government services and benefits would continue without interruption even if Congress fails to agree on a continuing resolution (CR) or President Obama vetoes it.

“That includes all services essential for national security and public safety — such as the military and law enforcement — as well as mandatory government payments such as Social Security and veterans’ benefits.

“In fact, as the Justice Department said in a legal opinion in 1995, ‘the federal government will not be truly shut down . . . because Congress has itself provided that some activities of Government should continue.’ Any claim that not passing a CR would result in a ‘shutting down’ of the government ‘is an entirely inaccurate description,’ according to the Justice Department.

“Such a lapse in funding would be neither catastrophic nor unprecedented. There have been 17 funding gaps just since 1977, ranging in duration from one to 21 days. Under applicable federal law, operations and services would continue for those essential for ‘the safety of human life or the protection of property’ as well as those programs funded through multiyear or permanent appropriations such as Social Security.

“A 1981 memorandum by David Stockman during the Reagan administration that is still relied on by the OMB laid out the services that continue without interruption during any government ‘shutdown’:

• “National security, including the conduct of foreign relations essential to the national security or the safety of life and property;

• Benefit payments and the performance of contract obligations under no-year or multi-year appropriations or other funds remaining available for those purposes;

• Medical care of inpatients and emergency outpatient care and activities essential for the safe use of food, drugs, and hazardous materials;

• Air-traffic control and other transportation safety functions;

• Border and coastal protection and surveillance;

• Protection of federal lands, buildings, waterways, and other property of the U.S.;

• Care of prisoners and others in federal custody;

• Law enforcement and criminal investigations;

• Emergency and disaster assistance;

• Activities essential to the preservation of the money and banking system of the U.S., including borrowing and tax collection;

• Production of power and maintenance of the power-distribution system; and protection of research property.

“So planes, trains, and automobiles will keep running and TSA will keep patting you down…Social Security and Medicaid benefits will keep going out. The Border Patrol will keep patrolling our borders to prevent illegal crossings…

“The FDA and the Department of Agriculture will continue their safety testing and inspection of food and drugs, and medical care of inpatients and emergency outpatient care will keep right on going.

“The Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department will keep printing and borrowing money and protecting the banking system. Unfortunately, the Internal Revenue Service will continue collecting taxes.

“It is certainly true that ‘nonessential’ federal employees will be furloughed. But so many federal employees are considered ‘essential’ that when President Bill Clinton vetoed a CR in November 1995 in a dispute with Newt Gingrich over a balanced budget and welfare reform, only about 800,000 out of a total of almost 4.5 million federal employees were furloughed.

“In a second funding gap from December 1995 to January 1996, only about 300,000 employees were furloughed. So the vast majority of federal workers will keep right on working.”

Also, as Andrew Stiles reports in NRO,  “even the implementation of Obamacare would proceed apace, provided the president does not unilaterally decide to delay it further. State- and federally run health-care exchanges — at least those whose implementation is going ahead on time — will still open on Tuesday, and other core aspects of the law will continue to receive funding, via mandatory appropriations.”

This “shutdown” won’t even reduce spending.

As Stiles reports, “because so many government operations would continue under a government shutdown, and because Congress has typically voted to reimburse the missed paychecks of furloughed workers, a government shutdown probably wouldn’t cut spending. By some estimates, in fact, the shutdowns of the mid 1990s actually cost the government more than $1 billion.”

Bottom line? Call it idiotic if you like, but don’t call it a shutdown.

There is enough fear and chaos already implied in the word “shutdown” that the last thing we need right now is to pour more oil on the fire.

What we should shut down are the hysterics, especially those coming from U.S. Senators who should know better.

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