The threat of a government shutdown still looms. The House and Senate are unable to agree on a federal budget for this fiscal year, and if the two sides cannot come to terms by midnight, we will face a shutdown on a scale not seen since Republicans last forced one in 1995 and 1996.
A government shutdown would be disastrous. It would disrupt the lives of millions of Americans while slamming the brakes on our recovery from the recession. Here are seven ways a government shutdown will hurt the American people, based on the consequences of the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns:
1. Social Security: Because Social Security checks are deemed essential, they should continue to be mailed in the event of a shutdown. New Social Security applications will likely go unprocessed, however, as was the case in the previous shutdown. Depending on the length of the shutdown, this could be seriously problematic for our nation’s seniors.
2. Veteran’s services: Republicans claim to support our troops, but forcing a government shutdown would be bad news for nation’s veterans, many of whom may lose access to vital veteran’s services. Health, welfare, finance, and travel services were all curtailed in 1996.
3. Health services: Forcing a government shutdown would put a pause on a number of important health services. In 1996, the National Institute of Health stopped taking new patients for clinical trials, the Center for Disease Control stopped disease surveillance, disease hotlines weren’t answered, and cleanup work stopped at 609 toxic waste sites.
4. Taxpayer dollars: Shutdowns are a huge waste of taxpayer money: Estimates put the minimum loss in 1996 at somewhere between $700 million and $800 million dollars in backed salaries paid to furloughed employees. Given that the economy was much more robust in 1996 than it is now, it is likely that a shutdown in 2011 would have an even worse economic impact—not something we need in the recovery phase of a recession.
5. National parks: National parks would be among the first places to close if the government shuts down. Three hundred and sixty-eight national parks closed in the 1995 and 1996 shutdown. They lost 7 million visitors and $14.2 million per day in tourist revenues.
6. Museums: National museums would likewise be closed in the event of a government shutdown. They were closed in the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns and lost an estimated 2 million visitors.
7. Passports: Over 200,000 passport applications went unprocessed during the fiscal year 1996 shutdown. The same applies for foreigners wishing to travel to the United States: An additional 20,000 to 30,000 daily visa applications also went unprocessed.
In short, the shutdowns forced in 1995 and 1996 were costly, wasteful and harmful to the American people. But it’s likely that the consequences will be far worse if a shutdown occurs in 2011. The economy was comparatively stronger in the mid ’90s and therefore more resilient against the effects of a government shutdown. Today, as a consequence of the Great Recession, more Americans are unemployed, below the poverty line and reliant on government assistance to make ends meet. With that in mind, forcing the closure of many government programs and agencies would be a reckless display of political bravado.
We need a responsible budget that balances fiscal discipline with the need to invest in America’s human and physical capital. President Barack Obama’s budget works toward that end. We hope that Republicans and Democrats are able to find common ground around a budget that intelligently and efficiently allocates government money in a manner most conducive to economic recovery.