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With Truants And Teabaggers In Congress, How Do We Stop The Next Shutdown Threat?

I began work as chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore on Nov. 13, 1995, one day before the first of two government shutdowns that year. I arrived to find a stack of furlough forms on my desk; I spent the day introducing myself to new colleagues . . . and laying them off. Throughout the building unease was palpable: People had bills to pay, and junior White House staffers had little cushion in their bank accounts.

Too many in government faced, and narrowly escaped, that same fate last week. The prospect of future shutdowns still looms, and the pain from a shutdown of any duration would be widespread. Effects of the 1995 shutdown included a halt in toxic cleanups at more than 600 sites; delays in deploying hundreds of new border agents and processing more than 200,000 passports; and closure of more than 300 parks, with losses to the tourism economy.

How did we get to the brink? And what lessons can we apply from the past to ensure this scenario doesn’t arise again?

There would be no political winners in a shutdown. Many Democrats recall the 1995 shutdown as a pivotal point in the Clinton presidency — the moment when his political comeback was cinched and the GOP began its slide to defeat in 1996. But the truth is more complicated. President Bill Clinton’s approval ratings fell during the shutdown and rose again only after the government reopened. The GOP’s political debacle stemmed in large part from Newt Gingrich’s comment that the shutdown was “payback” for a bad seat on Air Force One — a remark that former representative Tom DeLay later described as causing “the whole moral tone of the shutdown [to be] lost.” While Democrats emerged from this confrontation with a strong hand, there is no guarantee that a future crisis will end well. Undisciplined mistakes could foil their party as easily as the GOP.

Republicans would approach the next juncture in an even weaker position. Recent events showed that some learned from the severe political fallout from the 1995 shutdown, but others still believe the real mistake was compromising with Clinton to end the standoff. House Speaker John Boehner said last week that “there’s no daylight between the Tea Party and me,” just a day after Tea Party protesters chanted “shut it down, shut it down” near his office. And this deal didn’t make it less likely the speaker will reach one next time.

President Obama won this round, navigating difficult currents to take command of the situation and protecting nascent economic growth.

But this economy will continue to be far more fragile than the one Clinton managed during the confrontation in 1995, so simply putting this crisis behind us isn’t enough.

To lessen the odds of a repeat when the current year’s appropriations inevitably remain unfinished this fall, the president should do four things.

First, he has to continue to drive home — as he has in recent days — what the American people have at stake in a government shutdown. Obama must seize the moment, as Clinton did in 1996, to prepare for future confrontations; highlighting the Tea Party’s lusty cheering for a shutdown underscores both an ideological zeal that is indifferent to a shutdown’s real-world effects, and a contrast that can shape the governing and political dynamic for the final two years of his term.

Second, he should use this reprieve to direct his advisers to reexamine the basic legal framework for any future government shutdown: a January 1981 memo from outgoing Attorney General Ben Civiletti, and a subsequent directive from the Office of Management and Budget, that created the dichotomy that sends most federal workers home in a shutdown, except those whose activities are deemed “essential.” The attorney general could preemptively broaden the list of activities considered essential, substantially lessening the stakes in future standoffs. A 1990 amendment to the relevant federal statute narrowed room for creative interpretation of the law, but in the 1995 shutdown Clinton authorized 50,000 workers to return to their jobs, saying that their processing of Social Security and veterans benefit applications was “essential” to avoid a soaring backlog. A similar expansion of the definition of “essential activities” would minimize the portion of the government that could be held hostage in a future stalemate.

Third, he can explore the path employed to end the U.S. government shutdown in January 1996 — which ended not with a year-long agreement to fund the government (that didn’t come until April) but with a continuing resolution that included language categorizing all activities by federal workers as essential, allowing them to return to work even when funding expired. Putting such a measure in place now, in advance of the next crisis period, would ensure that workers remain on the job even when future battles over policy riders and spending levels rage.

Finally, the president should use the momentum gained in this confrontation to press for enactment of an automatic continuing resolution that would keep the entire federal government functioning at the prior year’s spending level when no other funding plan is in place. Congress has passed the regular appropriations bills on time in fewer than 10 of the past 60 years; the odds of success this year are remote. Tolerating unmanaged uncertainty about government funding is like walking around Washington in April without an umbrella: You will get wet; the only question is when.

President Obama averted disaster this time. But steps must be explored to prevent such near misses in the future.

By: Ron Klain, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 8, 2011

April 9, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Democrats, Elections, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideology, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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


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