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A view of Capitol Hill from Pennsylvania Ave. Photo by Jan Wondra.

What Does a Federal Government Shutdown Mean for Ordinary People?

The inability of the majority party to move forward to finalize and approve a federal budget has been called “a clown show”, a process “held up by lunatics”, and a “temper tantrum” by the far-right chaos end (composed of only five far-right members) of the Republican Party. These comments have been made by Republican Members of Congress.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy can’t even convince his party to vote on a measure to begin, necessary to even debate the first of the budget appropriations on the House floor. While there is a percentage of the population that is not just in favor of limited government, but is actually anti-government.

If time runs out and a government shutdown occurs, a lot of people are going to get hurt. Congress hasn’t passed a single one of the 12 annual appropriations measures this year. Just about every federal agency will get hit if they can’t even agree on a stopgap spending bill.

It isn’t just federal employees furloughed and our military forces not being paid. It’s the closure of national parks and national forests, the funding of everything from federal support for childcare to food safety inspections, border patrol, and the work of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the 2018-2019  five-week partial shutdown in 2018-19 cost the U.S. economy about $3 billion; even after everything was turned back on. We might think that the prospect of a massive government shutdown doesn’t affect us locally. Wrong. It will.

The federal government funds medical access and medical medical research. It funds the SNAP program; food access for low-income families, including here in Chaffee County and across Colorado. In fact, during the last Republican-led federal government shutdown, the federal government almost ran out of SNAP funds.

Department of Health and Human Services was among a handful of agencies Congress funded during the 2018-19 partial shutdown. But according to a contingency budget plan for the Department of Health and Human services updated on Sept. 21, about 42 percent of the agency’s workforce expects to be furloughed.

The federal government funds construction grants for housing, and for businesses. Final negotiations of the critical five-year Farm Bill — a vital component for agriculture across America — will come to a halt.  The lack of a budget could slow or stop the rollouts of the programs of the Infrastructure Bill, the Chips Act, and critical components of the U.S. commitments for the Paris Climate Accord.

Medicare and Medicaid,topics near and dear to Chaffee County seniors, are mandatory programs that aren’t subject to annual appropriations. This means that payments to doctors, hospitals and beneficiaries would continue. So will clinical trials will continue and the Obamacare exchanges will remain open — but with limited staff.

Yes, Social Security checks will arrive, the Post Office will deliver the mail, and funds supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression will still be delivered. But millions will suffer financial losses — accruing back pay — but waiting for their wages while the bills pile up.

“Funding the government is one of the most basic tasks of governing,” notes Colorado Seventh District Representative Brittany Pettersen. “Yet, extremist Republicans are threatening to block the passage of the budget, which must be passed every year to keep the government and all of its services up and running. We only have one week to pass a bill or….”

She adds, “I’m urging my colleagues in Congress to put people over politics and get this done so we can get back to delivering for the American people. I’m a member of the Problem Solvers’ Caucus, a group made evenly of Democrats and Republicans, and we’re pushing for a bipartisan framework for the budget that would ensure the government remains open.”

While a certain few in the Republican majority of the House appear bent on chaos, it looks increasingly likely that the Republican majority in the House is going to need to turn to the minority Democrats to work through any sort of budget stopgap. In the meantime — the clock is ticking.