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Will We Even Notice If The Government Shuts Down?

You’ll still get mail — but won’t be able to visit the Grand Canyon. Here’s a look at what a shutdown feels like: 

The probability of a partial government shutdown is increasing with each passing hour. With funding set to expire at the end of Friday, federal agencies have begun drawing contingency plans if President Obama and GOP congressional leaders fail to reach an agreement by then.

The basics of a shutdown, which we last experienced more than 15 years ago, are known: Hundreds of thousands of federal workers will be placed on furlough, and only those deemed essential to the protection of human life and property will continue to work — without pay. But the details are nebulous. What, in practical terms, would a shutdown actually mean to ordinary Americans? Would it disrupt their lives? Would they even notice? 

To help answer these questions, we’ve put together the following guide to life under a shutdown:

  • Social Security payments will be fine. The Social Security Administration doesn’t receives its funding from annual congressional budget appropriations, but rather through the Social Security Trust Fund, which is financed through payroll taxes. The Social Security Administration will likely continue doling out payments, and employees essential to guarantee those payments will continue working, although new applications may be affected. 
  • Medicare is safe … for now. Recipients will continue to receive checks for a limited time. However, if the shutdown were to stretch out for several months, payments could be cut off. 
  • The military will keep operating. Members of the armed services will continue to work, although they wouldn’t receive pay during the shutdown. Officials are rushing to put in place contingency plans to ensure that vital national security and foreign policy operations keep running. Two-thirds of State Department staffers would go on furlough.
  • The Veterans Health Administration would be unaffected. The V.A. operates on a two-year funding cycle that began last year, meaning it has already received the money it needs to keep operating. 
  • Good luck trying to visit national parks and museums. More than 350 federally run park sites, as well as federal museums, such as the Smithsonian and the National Archives, would be closed to visitors. Some museums that also receive private financing, such as the Kennedy Center, will remain open. The cumulative effect of the closures mean a half-million visitors could be turned away this weekend alone, according to some estimates. Security personnel, however, would remain in place.
  • Federal courts could conceivably operate unaffected. During past government shutdowns, the courts remained fully open through the use of fees collected by federal bankruptcy courts. Still, an extended shutdown could require furloughs for “court clerks, technical staff, security guards and other court employees.”
  • Homeland Security doesn’t stop. Most department employees would continue to work without pay. That includes border patrol, airport security and U.S. Coast Guard patrol. The department’s e-Verify system — which enables employers to check the immigration status of prospective hires — would be suspended. 
  • You’ll still receive your mail. The U.S. Postal Service, which is funded through customer payments, in large part from postage stamps, will continue to operate as normal
  • You’ll also still have to do your taxes. Income earners are still expected to file their taxes on time, although the IRS will suspend the processing of paper tax forms until government operations resume. 
  • Federally funded clinical research takes a hitNew research at the National Institutes of Health would be suspended, although ongoing research would continue. 
  • Tough luck if you need a new passport or visa. Most applications for passports and visas would likely go unprocessed. Such was the case in the ’95-’96 shutdown, when “nearly 30,000 visa applications were unprocessed” and “200,000 applications for passports were ignored.” 
  • Home loans will take a hit. The Federal Housing Administration could curb new home loan guarantees that private mortgage lenders often require for assurance that loans will be honored.

By: Peter Finocchiaro, Salon, April 6, 2011

April 6, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Consumers, Government Shut Down, Mortgages, Politics, Public | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Budget Battles: Republicans Maneuver Toward A Shutdown

The House Republicans on Tuesday made it clear to anyone who had missed it that they are not interested in a deal on the current federal budget. In a meeting at the White House, they rejected a deal to get through the next six months. President Obama, silent for too long on this fight, emerged from the meeting to say that he would tolerate no more ideological gamesmanship. But the Republicans, if anything, only increased their demands, and a government shutdown seemed likely to begin on Friday.

That the Republicans are not interested simply in reducing the deficit was made clear when the House Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan, released his budget plan for 2012 on the same day as the talks to finish the 2011 budget were falling apart. It was less a budget-balancing effort than a press release for the 2012 elections. Similarly, the party’s refusal to accept Mr. Obama’s overly generous budget offer for this year makes clear that its leaders prefer a shutdown to abandoning their ideological crusade to abolish their least favorite government programs.

If their goal was to reduce spending, they would have accepted the Democrats’ offer to cut $33 billion out of the budget for the next six months — the same amount as Republican leaders had originally requested before Tea Party members forced them to double it earlier this year. As the president noted, that offer constitutes the largest cut to domestic discretionary spending in history.

But Speaker John Boehner and his negotiating team have continually moved the end zone. They spurned the specific cuts proposed by the Democrats because they did not end the programs reviled by the Republicans, including education improvements, health care reform and infrastructure rebuilding. They now want a total of $40 billion, a target that just emerged on Tuesday.

After meeting with the Republicans, Mr. Obama suggested with some bitterness that they were still trying to score political points, demanding victories on abortion or gutting environmental regulation to keep the government open. He made it clear that that was not acceptable, and neither are demands to cut 60,000 Head Start teaching positions, or medical research, or other items that are vital to many Americans and the fragile economic recovery.

There will still be a few more meetings before the shutdown deadline, but leaders on both sides say they are more pessimistic about reaching agreement. The public may need to rely on the pain of an actual shutdown to bring radical House lawmakers back to reality.

By: Editorial, The New York Times, April 5, 2011

April 6, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Economy, Elections, Federal Budget, GOP, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Politics, President Obama, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, Tea Party | , , , , | Leave a comment

John Boehner: It’s His Shutdown And He’ll Cry If He Wants To

 I guess this was inevitable.

John Boehner was driven to tears again today. This time it happened at a closed-door meeting of House Republicans.

According to sources inside the meeting, it happened while Boehner was speaking to the group about the latest on his negotiations with Democrats over government funding. Boehner talked about his meeting yesterday with President Obama and then, in a rousing conclusion, he thanked the House Republicans for standing by him and supporting him through these tense negotiations.

The Republican conference responded with a standing ovation for their speaker.

As you could imagine, that prompted the Speaker to cry.

Sure, but is there any chance the crying could become tears of joy after striking a deal? Time is obviously running out in a hurry — we’re now counting down by the number of hours, not the number of days — but there’s been some movement this afternoon.

Roll Call reported that the party’s leaders are at least talking again, and “there were indications that progress was being made.” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters, “I feel better about it today than I did yesterday at the same time.”

This was not a unanimous view. Politico reported that “leaders from both parties are more pessimistic about cutting a deal before the government runs out of money.”

There was reportedly some progress on the spending-cut target. Boehner moved the goalposts this week, demanding $40 billion in cuts after agreeing privately to $33 billion, but top aides today apparently met to explore another compromise between the two numbers. The bigger hurdle, apparently, is the GOP demand for policy “riders,” which right-wing House Republicans continue to treat as having equal importance to the cuts themselves.

How party leaders can work around this is a mystery to me.

The odds notwithstanding, if a compromise is reached, what about the rule GOP leaders imposed on themselves, mandating that a bill is available for three days before a vote? In this case, Republicans are prepared to waive the rule, if there’s a deal to even vote on.

In the meantime, the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity held a rally this afternoon across the street from the Capitol, with several dozen right-wing activists on hand to listen to speeches from Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), and others. The Republican voters chanted, “Shut it down!” during the rally, and every other sign at the rally urged the GOP to shut down the government.

I think we can say with confidence which side of the aisle is “rooting for a government shutdown.”

By: Steve Benen, Political Animal, Washington Monthly, April 6, 2011

April 6, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Democrats, Federal Budget, GOP, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Koch Brothers, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wisconsin Supreme Court Race Throws A Spanner In The Works Of Wisconsin Wingnuts

While Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan prepares to shut down the federal government to prove that government is bad, analysts say the radical agenda of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker suffered a major set back today as his good friend incumbent Justice David Prosser was defeated for Wisconsin Supreme Court. The AP unofficial vote count, with 100 percent of the precincts reporting, puts challenger Joanne Kloppenburg ahead by slightly more than 200. A recount is doubtless on the way.

In a state that has never unseated a conservative Supreme Court justice, people power fueled a concentrated effort to deny the Imperial Walker one branch of government. Walker’s opponents hope a Kloppenburg victory will swing the Supreme Court in a more independent direction and set the stage for the court to strike down Walker’s controversial collective bargaining law. While the fate of the law is uncertain, Kloppenburg’s three week sprint from dead-in-the-water to victor may give Walker, Ryan and other Wisconsin politicians pause as they rush to radically reshape government to benefit the privatizers and profiteers. 

Sleepy Court Race Electrifies the State

While it may seem odd to many Americans, Wisconsinites like to elect their judges. Although an elected judiciary has its problems (namely, unseemly high-dollar elections), the ballot box sometimes hands citizens a rare opportunity to un-elect judges — and that is what many Wisconsinites decided to do today.  Prosser, a former Republican Assembly Speaker, stumbled when his campaign embraced Walker’s election.

The Kloppenburg victory is stunning. Six weeks ago, sitting Judge David Prosser was a shoo-in and the challenge by Assistant Attorney General Kloppenburg was a snooze fest. But something happened on the way to the high court. A governor, who was elected to create jobs, took office and quickly moved to disenfranchise voters and kneecap unions so they could no longer be a viable force in state elections. The raw power grab sparked a spontaneous uprising, the likes of which this state has never seen, and the Supreme Court race was the next vehicle for people to have their voices heard.

Proxy Fight Over Worker Rights

The whole country took notice when firefighters, teachers and cops stood with working families across Wisconsin to say ‘no’ to Walker’s radical plans to bust unions, cut $1 billion from schools and privatize the university system.

When his “budget repair bill” was passed March 9th, many national observers thought the fight was over.  With large margins in both houses, Walker’s stranglehold on government seemed invincible.

But irate Wisconsinites fought back on multiple fronts, filing lawsuits over the way in which Senate leaders rammed the bill through with less than the requisite notice required under the state open meetings law, blocking the bill’s implementation. They filed recall petitions against eight Wisconsin senators and this week delivered the requisite signatures for two of those recalls well ahead of schedule. They turned their attention to the heretofor unnoticed race for Wisconsin Supreme Court. Within days, handmade signs for Joanne Kloppenburg popped up across the state. Many voters understood that to win any of the battles ahead over worker rights, over the recalls, over redistricting and more, a more balanced judiciary was needed.

Kloppenburg went from being a long-shot to victory in a three-week sprint marked by huge independent expenditures on both sides. The anticipated recount will keep the juices flowing and will fuel the remaining recall fights.

Shock Doctrine at Work

While some voters believe the court will act as a check and balance on the madness at the state level, they are concerned that Paul Ryan continues to run amok at the federal level — threatening a complete government shut down. At the same time that Walker was working to obliterate unions and privatize public schools, Ryan, Chair of the House Budget Committee, decided to go after Grandma with the complete privatization of Medicare. His radical budget bill, unveiled this week, slashes trillions of dollars from America’s social safety net and throws the elderly into the private insurance market with a “voucher” in their pocket.

Less interested in balancing the budget than redistributing wealth, his budget plan would funnel billions into the pockets of big insurance firms while also giving a ten percent tax break to corporations and the very richest Americans.

What is really going on here? Naomi Klein warned in her groundbreaking book “Shock Doctrine” that the right-wing excels at creating crises, real and imagined, to viciously advance their pro-corporate anti-government agenda. She credits economist Milton Friedman who observed that “only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real changes. When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is out basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

UW Professor Joel Rogers wrote recently:  “As explained by Grover Norquist and Karl Rove, this project aims at national repeal of most of democratic achievements of the 20th century, a return to business domination of public life not seen since the Gilded Age and McKinley.”

The Wall Street financial crisis caused by years of deregulation and lack of government oversight cost Americans eight million jobs, tanking federal and state tax receipts and creating budget shortfalls. Ryan and Walker are moving to take advantage this real jobs crisis to cook up a fake deficit crisis to advance a radical agenda that is hostile to the very idea of government – the idea that sometimes services are best provided and things are best accomplished collectively, for the public good, and not for corporate profit.

Today, many voters believe that this agenda was checked in Wisconsin. While another recount battle looms, voters of Wisconsin are pledging that they will not allow this victory to be stolen.

By: Mary Bottari, Center For Media And Democracy, April 6, 2011

April 6, 2011 Posted by | Banks, Collective Bargaining, Corporations, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Economy, Elections, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Government Shut Down, Labor, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, Right Wing, Union Busting, Unions, Voters, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In This Fantasy Budget Deficit And Debt Fight, the Tea Party Refuses To Take ‘Yes’ For An Answer

Suppose I told you that I knew of a simple way to alleviate the budget deficit problem, and that it would require Congress not to do anything at all. You’d conclude that this was the poor start to a late April Fools’ column.

But unhappily the April Fools’ joke unfolding in the nation’s capital is the fantasy budget and spending debate itself. It’s rooted in an unreality that is about to crash into an unyielding real world, possibly in the form of a government shutdown.

The Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan fiscal scorekeeper, projects the budget deficit will be $1.5 trillion this year, or 9.8 percent of gross domestic product. In order to achieve budget stability and sustainability, according to economists, that figure should be around 3 percent of GDP. But here’s the good news: The CBO projects that the deficit will “drop markedly over the next few years as a share of output and average 3.1 percent of GDP from 2014 to 2021.” We’re saved! And it gets better: “Those projections . . . are based on the assumption that tax and spending policies unfold as specified in current law.”

In other words, all Congress has to do is what they seem ideally suited to these days—nothing. Ah, but there’s the rub. CBO continues that its projections “understate the budget deficits that would occur if many policies currently in place were continued, rather than allowed to expire as scheduled under current law.” Those policies include the Bush tax cuts. They also include annual spending punts that enjoy broad bipartisan support, like preventing the Alternative Minimum Tax’s bracket creep from snagging the middle class, and the “doc fix,” which pushes back a scheduled cut in Medicare payments.

So the solution isn’t so simple. But lawmakers wishing to do more than talk about dealing with the deficit could demand offsets for these policy changes. Instead, we’re reminded of the reality that even the toughest self-styled budget hawks–including Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, who describes dealing with the deficit as a “moral imperative” but advocates extending the Bush tax cuts in full in perpetuity at a cost of nearly $4 trillion–are actually strutting budget peacocks more concerned with perception than results, or fiscal results anyway.

Take, for example, the Republican Study Committee, the hawkiest of the GOP budgetary birds of prey and enforcers of the party’s economic dogma. Going by reputation, they should be able to proffer a budget plan to bring the deficit into line. But the Concord Coalition, a group focused on eliminating the deficit, last month used CBO numbers to examine a scenario under which the Study Committee got its tax-and-spending wish list, which includes an extension of the Bush tax cuts, repeal of the Obama healthcare law (which CBO scores as a money-saver, meaning that repeal adds to the deficit), and $2.7 trillion saved in a spending freeze and cuts. The result? “Under this scenario, the resulting deficits would be $2.1 trillion larger over 10 years,” according to Concord, which concludes, “A budget that uses honest numbers and reflects Republicans’ current policy preferences will result in large continuing deficits.”

But nevertheless, and in the face of six recent years of GOP control over both the White House and Congress, Republicans have won the budget perception battle, and soundly. A poll released last week by Democracy Corps, a group of prominent liberal pollsters including Stan Greenberg and James Carville, found that independent voters are “still hesitant to trust Democrats on spending.”

Meanwhile the debate in Washington has focused almost entirely on spending cuts, even though polls show that voters are more concerned about jobs and the economy than the budget and the deficit—and even though most economists agree that the GOP’s proposed spending cuts would set back the recovery.

But the clearest example of the GOP having the Democrats on the run can be found in the current negotiations aimed at averting a government shutdown in a week. House Republican leaders originally wanted $32 billion in spending cuts for this year; that figure prompted a conservative backlash that ended with the House passing $61 billion in cuts. Now, according to press reports, negotiators have settled on $33 billion in cuts. In other words, the GOP, which controls one of three players in this negotiation, has already achieved its original budgetary goal. In this regard, House Speaker John Boehner seems to have (intentionally or not) used his Tea Party wing as a perfect foil to pull the debate to the right.

But judging by last Thursday’s Tea Party demonstration on the Hill—aimed at the GOP, mind you—conservatives don’t seem capable of banking their win and moving on to the next fight. They see anything less than total victory as an abject surrender.

And in that sense reality is about to intrude upon their budgetary-political fantasy land. The reality is that while voters like spending cuts in the abstract, polls show they object to the particulars of the GOP agenda. That reality is already taking hold at the state level where, Politico reported last week, the wave of newly elected governors trying to get tough on budgets have seen their approval ratings collapse.

And the experience of state governments also provides an insight into the possible winners and losers in a government shutdown. A pair of political scientists published a paper last year looking at the effects of such budgetary breakdowns (167 of them since 1988) at the state level, reports the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein. The study found that voters tend to punish legislators while rewarding the executive. So a shutdown would benefit President Obama while hurting lawmakers in both parties.

So if members of Congress let the government shut down on Friday, they will be the real April fools.

By: Robert Schlesinger, U.S. News and World Report, April 6, 2011

April 6, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives, Democrats, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Government Shut Down, Health Reform, Jobs, Politics, President Obama, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, States, Tea Party, Voters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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