Blog: A Rundown on the Shutdown

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Pam Linn

With the Federal government in partial shutdown thanks to posturing of a minority of Republican House members, we need to take stock of impacts on ordinary folks.

Without taking sides in the political debate (which apparently isn’t happening), here are a few points. The national parks are closed; I support Yellowstone National Park through annual donations to its foundation. Does this mean I get my money back? Not bloody likely.

My question is, why close the entire park, when volunteers provide many services? When the gates closed, a whole bunch of tourists were stranded in Cooke City on Yellowstone’s north eastern border, where only one gas station and one café were open. An early snowstorm closed other access roads, leaving the little town to fend for itself. Both Cooke City and Gardiner, at the northwestern gateway to the park, are suffering a huge economic hit.

The National Parks Conservation Association projected that 400 national parks would close, causing the loss of $450,000 in fees every day; surrounding communities would lose about $76 million each day. That’s not chump change, par ticularly to businesses that have only about six months of profitability each year.

Furloughs would affect more than 80 percent of federal employees in departments of Treasury, Interior, Labor, Commerce, NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

While mail deliveries continue, federal courts remain open and airline passengers are still harassed by TSA inspections. Soldiers remain on duty but their paychecks may be held up and the Defense Department’s civilian employees (about half) are being furloughed, putting towns that rely on mili tary paychecks essentially out of business.

So why is it that Republican congress mem bers insist there are no tangible results of the shutdown? Probably because they and their relatives are well off, have healthcare insurance and don’t depend for their subsistence on govern ment programs. And don’t forget, they’re still receiving paychecks courtesy of taxpayers though their offices are closed and they’re ostensibly not working.

The real folks who need food assistance, those who rely on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) are suffering. School meals and SNAP (food stamps) are, for the time being, still distrib uted but smaller programs may not have enough money to stay open.

Federal agencies, which have already been subject to drastic funding cuts, are furlough ing workers for the duration of the shutdown. It’s estimated that a lot of food will go from packinghouses to tables without sufficient safety inspections, which actually has been happening all along. So who takes responsibility for possible outbreaks of food poisoning while the USDA is out to lunch? Congress? As if.

On the bright side, the agency may have to forgo its $100 million per year subsidy for the killing of predators. Mountain lions and coyotes in Nevada may get a reprieve as the state says it hasn’t the resources to take over the program. Conservationists are cheering even though a fed eral judge has rejected their lawsuit against the USDA. Appeals continue.

The U.S. Forest Service announced last week it’s shutting down logging operations on public lands across the nation. Timber sales and some contracts are being suspended at 150 national forests, causing grave economic damage to rural areas. If the shutdown continues to the end of October, winter weather will make things tough er for loggers while sawmills may be forced to start laying off workers.

We’ve been assured that Social Security checks, on which so many elderly people rely, and Medicare payments will continue to be paid, but processing of new applications for disability ben efits may be delayed.

The housing industry, which is just beginning to recover from its worst recession in decades, may endure another slump caused by closure of federal mortgage loan guarantee agencies; this despite another dip in mortgage interest rates. Realtors are among the casualties of this shutdown.

Still, politicians play the blame game. Viewers of Fox News are likely to hear that Democrats are exclusively to blame for the whole debacle, while those of us who read daily newspapers tend to put the onus on recalcitrant Tea Partiers.

House majority leader John Boehner could stop the whole thing by calling for a floor vote where moderate Republicans could join Democrats in passing a “clean” budget bill. He says he won’t.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) gave the quote of the week: My party is following a “Ted Cruz-lemmings strategy.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.