Gov Career

By Phil Piemonte

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Shutdown blues

Well, it came to pass. The shutdown is here.

By sometime this morning, most feds knew the score, i.e., whether to go to work the following day if "essential" (whatever that may mean), or to stay home if not.

But the shutdown is here. For how long is anyone's guess.

Senate Democrats are dug in and calling for a "clean" bill. The Republican House leadership is for the moment uncomfortably hedged in by a tea party faction that refuses to go along unless a bill includes some measure to hobble the Affordable Care Act. And the president remains adamant that he will not compromise on the Act, which is his signature accomplishment.

Just how rancorous has Congress gotten? In a recent article in the Washington Post, a veteran of the last shutdown, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), noted that the Republican firebrand who served as point man in the House during the shutdown 17 years ago, then Speaker Newt Gingrich, "seemed more reasonable" than the current lot.

As this shutdown began, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) predictably laid the blame on Senate Democrats, who he said had "rejected common-sense efforts to re-open the government, and rejected fairness for all Americans under the president’s health care law."

"House Republicans will continue our efforts to keep the government running," Boehner said. "We hope that Senate Democrats—and President Obama—change course and start working with us on behalf of the American people.”

Of course, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)—equally predictably—saw it somewhat differently.

"Republicans knew their empty political stunt would fall on its face in the United States Senate," Reid said in a statement. "Yet House Republicans voted to hold the government hostage until Democrats agree to return to the days when insurance companies put profit margins before patient care."

Federal employee union leaders, among other things, characterized the shutdown as just the latest indignity feds have been forced to endure over the last several years.

"This is not how our country should treat those whose goal is to serve their fellow Americans," National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley said. "Hundreds of thousands of dedicated federal workers have now been sent home without pay because Congress isn’t doing its job. It is being widely reported that a bipartisan majority of House members would vote for a continuing resolution without controversial amendments. The House leadership needs to let that vote happen."

Others labor leaders expressed that sentiment and more.

“The seriousness of refusing the fund the government seems to elude the members of the House who maneuvered us into this lockout," American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement. "It’s anybody’s guess what their real goals may be: Do they enjoy creating chaos? Do they enjoy inflicting additional hardship on the working- and middle-class employees who provide services to the American public?"

President Obama had his say as well. In a message to employees, the president praised feds for their work, but acknowledged that they performed that work "in a political climate that, too often in recent years, has treated you like a punching bag."

But you probably already knew that.

So where to go from here? As noted above, it's anyone's guess. Some predict it will take days or even weeks before the stare-down ends.

But the pressure will build, and thanks to the Internet, probably will build a lot faster than it did last time around, with more people becoming aware more quickly about the fallout of a shutdown. Those same people, average folks, now have the ability—as near and immediate as the phones in their pockets—to communicate their concerns to lawmakers.

And the concerns are as varied as the people who have them. Right now, kids on senior classes trips aren't getting into the Smithsonian. People are flying, aware that aviation inspection is on hold. Soon-to-be vacationers can't renew passports. And so on.

It could make a difference, even with the intransigent Congress we have. Any bets on how long the shutdown will last? What do you think?

Posted by Phil Piemonte on Oct 01, 2013 at 4:02 PM

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