Friday, April 8, 2011

Govermnent Shutdown: how do we really feel about it?

With the impending government shutdown in Washington right around the corner (if nothing is done by midnight tonight...) new facts about the impact of such a drastic measure, and our feelings about this impact, are mixed. On one hand, a government shutdown is meant to save money – on the other hand, it will cost millions to do so. So how can we make sense of this? Should we care here in Minnesota? And what does this say about our demand for public services?

What do we think? WCCO's Good Question segment a few days ago hinted at the fact that citizens are not surprised, but are also eager to blame for not finishing the job: (See full video here). P olls on the matter also paint a picture of suspect demand for federal government services and blame-game politics. According to recent MSNBC polls, 42% would blame Obama and the Democrats for a shutdown. A Quinnipiac University Poll states that 47% of Americans would blame Republicans while just 38 percent would blame President Barack Obama. Regardless most American's say that if it happens they will simply "take it in stride."

Government shutdowns are not unique to Washington. Recent talks of Fed government shutdown bring back memories of Minnesota’s own ‘ GOVacation’ – two weeks in July 2005. During that time “ot only were thousands left jobless, but vital state services were also affected by the week-long shutdown. The Transportation Department, with the most closings, temporarily discontinued issuing new driver's licenses. The government did call back several Health Department laboratory workers to handle what turned out to be a busy weekend investigating suspected cases of salmonella, Legionnaires' disease and West Nile virus. In addition, select judicial decisions, which some believe violated the state Constitution, allowed government functions in key agencies to continue without legislative appropriations.” (See full article @

What would actually happen this time? Apparently we as citizens would lose the following services during a shutdown: national parks, museums and monuments would be closed; paper tax returns would not be processed; The two-week paychecks due April 15 for active-duty service members and civilians would be reduced by half. (Once funding is restored, back pay would be issued); The FHA would stop endorsing new mortgage loans; The SBA would delay new loans; Most passport offices would be closed, with only emergency services available; Mine inspections would cease. In Minnesota, our annual flood-crisis would not be affected, as the US Army Corps of Engineers will continue to battle the state of emergency in our flood plains.

What does this say about demand for government services? An ABC poll points out that 31% said it would be a good thing if it happened (does that mean 69% said it would be a bad thing...?). After the partial shutdown in 1996, only 12% of Americans said they personally were inconvenienced, including just 4% who experienced “major” inconvenience. Have we had enough of the partisan political dives - to the point where we don't actually care if it functions at all?! Can we simply "take it in stride."??

Conclusion: A mixed reaction. In terms of the financial cost, some federal estimates put the cost of a shutdown at $100 million per day, which White House deputy budget director Jeffrey Zients said would be (only?) "relatively significant." Given the #’s what are we to believe? Are the polls accurate? Is the same feeling felt in Minnesota? Does it cost more money to shutdown than stay open? Our disconnectedness from the political process - along with partisan rhetoric and undependable polling begs one final question: what does it matter to me?

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