Shutdown: Congressional Childishness and Its Consequences

Terrance Heath

Calling the GOP’s antics childish is an insult to children. Their budget shenanigans surpass the worst childish behavior, and are far more damaging. The Republican-engineered government shutdown is doing real harm to real people, and endangering an already fragile economy.

Demand What You Know You’ll Never Get

House GOP #WhatUsGovernWith two kids, sharing and taking turns is mandatory in our house. But it’s not always easy. When there’s trouble, it often involves the television. After playing outside, eating dinner, and finishing homework we let our boys watch some television before bedtime. Since children’s shows are usually half an hour long, every 30 minutes they take turns choosing what to watch.

Most of the time this arrangement works smoothly. But if homework takes a little longer than usual or dinner is delayed, someone ends up with a shorter turn or misses a turn altogether. Explaining to the aggrieved child that it couldn’t’ be helped, and promising he’ll get a turn next time usually calms things down.

Sometimes it doesn’t. Once, our oldest was inconsolable over losing a bit of his television time. In exasperation, I asked him, “Well, what would make you happy?” He responded, “A thousand turns!”

I thought about that exchange when House Republicans sent the Senate a continuing resolution tying government funding to delaying or defunding the Affordable Care Act. It came to mind again when GOP concocted an even more ludicrous list of demands for raising the debt ceiling. The difference is that our son stopped his grumbling and pouting, because he knew that what he was demanding he’d never get.

Our 10-year-old may be smarter and more mature than congressional Republicans. Who could seriously believe that Senate Democrats would vote to defund or delay health care reform, or that President Obama would sign any bill that derails his signature legislative achievement? The most unreasonable child wouldn’t demand as much, and actually expect to get it.

If You’re Losing, Change The Rules!

There are a lot of families with children in on our street. We live on a cul-de-sac with very little traffic, except for residents and lost drivers looking a place to turn around. On a nice day, it’s normal to see half a dozen or more kids playing together outside, and running from yard to yard under the watchful eye of a parent or two.

The kids usually make up their own games. The rules and scoring methods are often so abstruse that only a mind between the ages of 5 and 10 can possibly understand them. Parents step in to resolve disputes and disagreements that inevitably arise.

Federal Shutdown ExplainedEventually, we realized what was causing some of the disputes. Whatever the game, the rules were constantly changing. Changes were often indicated by cries like “That’s not the base anymore!”, “No one is getting points for that anymore”, or “That’s not fair!” As soon as one kid or one team realized they were losing, they’d change the rules of the game.

That’s kind of what Republicans are doing.

The president ran on health care reform in 2008 and won. Right after inauguration, President Obama announced to a joint session of Congress his intention to begin work on health care reform legislation. After all, he campaigned on the issue and won.

After considerable debate, Congress passed a health care reform bill similar to the reform Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney signed into law in 2006. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act incorporated provisions that Republicans had previously supported.

(The individual mandate was proposed by the Heritage Foundation in 1989. It was part of the Republican alternative to President Bill Clinton’s health care reform proposal in 1993, the Massachusetts’ health care reform bill signed by Romney in 2006, and a reform bill introduced by senators Bob Dole and Ron Wyden in 2007.)

Republicans opposed the individual mandate, threatened to filibuster any bill that included it, and filed lawsuits against health care reform because of it. Conservatives challenged the constitutionality of health care reform, and fought all the way to the Supreme Court, only to have the court uphold the of the law as constitutional.

President Obama won reelection in 2012 by comfortable margins in both the popular vote and the electoral college. Republican candidate Mitt Romney ran on a promise to repeal health care reform, and lost. Voters returned the supporters of health care reform to office.

Any reasonable person would consider the matter settled by now. But Republicans are sticking to their unreasonable demands, and trying to change the rules in order to undo the results of two elections that they lost.

The Consequences of Congressional Childishness

When children make unreasonable demands or argue over changing the rules of their own games, the consequences are no more than few minutes of pouting or a minor spat. Adults step to give a firm “No” to unreasonable demands, and to make sure that everyone plays fair. Eventually things calm down and return to normal.

Here are just a few of the ways the GOP’s government shutdown is already having a devastating impact in the lives of Americans, and damaging an economy that still hasn’t fully recovered from the financial crisis.

  • Sick children are being denied care. Every week that the National Institutes of Health is unfunded, 200 patients are denied treatment at the NIH Clinical Center. Of those 200 patients, 30 are children. Of those 30 children, many have cancer. Because the NIH Clinical Center is a research hospital, the treatments available there for diseases like childhood cancer aren’t available anywhere else. As NIH literature states, “These patients have nowhere else to go.” Republicans failed to stop health care reform, but they have stopped sick children from getting potentially life-saving treatment.
  • Almost 20,000 children will lose access to Head Start programs. Due to the shutdown, eleven states did not get their federal grants. As a result, 19,000 children will lose access to Head Start. The loss of Head Start is a hardship for low-income families. Parents will have to go without pay to care for their children, or spend their meager wages to pay for childcare so that they can work. In Bridgeport, Conn., 13 Head Start Programs serving 1,000 children have shut down completely. In Talladega, Ala., more than 700 preschoolers couldn’t go to class. The local Head Start office received calls from worried parents who rely on the program for childcare during working hours.
  • Scientific research projects have come to a halt. As agencies are forced to close and furlough nonessential personnel, vital scientific research is grinding to a halt. The consequences ripple across scientific communities, and the damage will be hard to repair. Scientific research is often time-dependent, and there may be no opportunity to make up for missed events and opportunities once the shutdown ends. The Centers for Disease Control is unable to support its seasonal influenza program. The agency will be less able to track and respond to flu outbreaks, just as flu seasons begins.
  • Food safety inspections are suspended. The Department of Agriculture will continue manning every meat-producing facility with full-time inspectors. But the Food and Drug Administration oversees the safety of most of the food industry, and most of its inspectors have been deemed nonessential. Approximately 80 facilities per day will not be inspected during the shutdown, and as many as 960 will go without inspections if the shutdown lasts until the debt ceiling deadline, on October 17.
  • Toxic clean-ups have ceased. The Environmental Protection Agency has furloughed over 90 percent of its staff, including those working on toxic clean-ups at more than 500 Superfund sites in 47 states, where hazardous waste has built up and threatens public health. Such sites are often located in low-income communities or communities of color. EPA chief Gina McCarthy warned last week that her agency “effectively shuts down” if the government closes. Most of the EPA workers responsible for enforcing regulations by taking legal action against polluters have also been furloughed.
  • Colorado will have to fund its own flood relief. Some Coloradans have been concerned that the shutdown might slow or halt repairs of the damage cause by last month’s catastrophic flooding. Governor John Hickenlooper (D) has announced that the state will provide funding for the National Guard members who continue to aid in flood relief efforts. The state hopes to recoup most of the costs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with local and state governments paying for the rest.
  • The shutdown imperils worker protections. Thanks to the shutdown, just 11 of the National Labor Relations Board’s employees are working, at a time when there’s a backlog of unsettled cases on labor practices. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will cease any inspections that don’t involve immediate dangers or deaths. At the Labor Department, investigations of wage theft allegations will also come to a halt.
  • Families will lose food assistance. Across the country, families are at risk of losing nutritional assistance due to the government shutdown. In Arkansas alone, 85,000 people will lose nutritional assistance. Utah has already announced that it will not be taking new applicants. More than 9 million mothers and children receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Low income mothers, pregnant women, babies and young children who rely on WIC could see that help cut off.
  • Small businesses are losing money due to the shutdown. Small business owners are already losing money due to the shutdown. Federal workers, facing an uncertain period without work and without paychecks, aren’t spending money at small businesses. Businesses that operate on federally managed lands or public parks will close. Businesses in Washington, D.C. are expected to lose $220 million per day during the shutdown.
  • Black-owned businesses are feeling the sting of the shutdown. The closure of the Small Business Association has hit black business owners particularly hard. The SBA provides loans and many other services accessed by black-owned businesses. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.) warned that the shutdown could make it harder for struggling businesses to get off the ground. “Black businesses are impacted at a higher rate than the general population,” Payne warned.
  • The closure of national parks costs local communities $76 billion per day. Millions of tourists are finding national parks closed due to the government shutdown. That’s an economic blow to communities that benefit from the 300 million visitors who come to national parks each year. According to the National Park Service, communities will lose $76 billion in business from tourist spending on food, gas, lodging, and entertainment. Washington — home to various monuments, historical sites, and the Smithsonian Museums — stands to lose more than $5 million per day during the shutdown.
  • The shutdown costs taxpayers $12 million per hour, and $300 million per day. According to IHS Global insight, an economic consulting firm,  the cost of work and services government is unable to provide comes to more than $1.6 billion per week, $300 million per day, or $12.5 million per hour. That’s how much shutdown is costing the national economy, since no pay for federal workers means no contribution to economic output.

This depressing list is by no means all of the consequences of the Republicans’ government shutdown. The economy may be able stand a few days of this, but not much more. The longer it goes on, the further the ripple effect of shutting down the government will spread, and more Americans will suffer the consequences.

Comments