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Washington Worries About Possible Government Shutdown

  • Molly McKitterick

FILE - Vicki Maturo of Culver City, Calif., protests the government shutdown outside the federal building in Los Angeles, Oct. 2, 2013.

FILE - Vicki Maturo of Culver City, Calif., protests the government shutdown outside the federal building in Los Angeles, Oct. 2, 2013.

In Washington, D.C., it has become an annual rite, or maybe an annual ordeal: the potential shutdown of the federal government when the fiscal year begins October 1.

As the hot summer weather ends in September, the worry begins. For federal workers, there is concern about doing without a paycheck if the government closes. Federal agencies must make contingency plans, figure out which employees are essential and which services can be curtailed. For all the many companies that depend on the federal government, there is the prospect of a disruption in business. And tourists would do well to book a ticket home, because a shutdown would close many of the sites they came to see.

Often referred to as a one-industry town, the nation’s capital revolves around the central government. A shutdown is a big deal here.

And this year, the prospects for avoiding one do not look good.

‘Big mess’

Congress has until the end of September to negotiate a budget. If the legislative body fails, the government closes.

Leading budget guru Stan Collender has worked on the House and Senate budget committees. He does not know how a shutdown can be avoided.

“Technically, it's a big mess. Congress and the president are supposed to agree on 12 appropriations bills for every year,” Collender told Politico. “The new fiscal year starts in October 1, and none have been agreed to. In fact, none are even close to being agreed to.”

A number of issues could get in the way of budget negotiations, but the one most likely to be a flashpoint is the women’s health organization Planned Parenthood, which has been accused of profiting from the sale of fetal tissue it obtains from abortions, a charge the group hotly denies. Anti-abortion Republicans want to remove Planned Parenthood from the budget.

“That’s not good sense and it is not good business,” President Barack Obama told a group of business leaders Wednesday. “The notion that we play chicken with an $18 trillion economy and global markets that are already skittish, all because of an issue around a women’s health provider that receives less than 20 cents out of every thousand dollars in the budget — that is not good policymaking.”

Obama expressed a hope that Congress would not only keep the government open but would also do more.

Avoiding a shutdown would be “a good start. We’d like them to achieve that," he said. "But I think we can do better. We can actually do some things to help the economy grow.”

Shutdowns costly

If there is a shutdown, it will be the second one in three years. In 2013, when House Republicans shut down the government in a protest over the president’s health care program, it cost billions of dollars.

Here are some of the things that did not get done during that 16-day shutdown, according to the Office of Management and Budget:

— Environmental reviews and permitting were halted.

— Import and export licenses were put on hold.

— Private sector lending was disrupted.

— Small business loans stopped.

— The Alaskan crab fishing season was delayed because the harvest could not be apportioned.

— Tourism was disrupted when national parks were closed.

— Statistical data could not be released.

In addition, the federal employees who were furloughed for 16 days cost the government a combined total of 6.6 million days of work. Safety inspections, public health monitoring and processing of tax refunds were among the many services that stopped.

What did thrive in Washington during that shutdown, when all the art museums and the National Zoo were closed, were the bars and restaurants. With no work to go to, Washingtonians took advantage of food and drink specials throughout the city.

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