Museum closures least of shutdown concerns
By Patrick Temple-West and Gabriel Debenedetti, ReutersWASHINGTON--The most iconic image from the last big shutdown of the federal government in 1995 was also its most misleading.
October 1, 2013, 12:09 am TWN
It was a sign on the door of the Air and Space Museum in Washington saying “Due to the Federal Government shutdown, the Smithsonian Institution must be closed. We regret the inconvenience.”
But that shutdown, which lasted from Dec. 16, 1995 to Jan. 6, 1996 as Democratic President Bill Clinton battled a Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, was a lot more than an inconvenience.
And it offers lessons about what Americans might expect, both in costs and reduced services, if a stalemate between Republicans in Congress and Democratic President Barack Obama leads to a shutdown on Tuesday.
The shutdown of 1995-96 held up passports for more than 200,000 people who wanted to travel. It stopped stock offerings from coming to market. It blocked new admissions to the National Institutes of Health, the government's illustrious medical research facility.
And yes, national parks across the country and museums in Washington did close.
The paralysis produced millions of dollars in losses for tourist-dependent businesses.
And costs to the federal government alone, according to an analysis by the Office of Management and Budget, was US$1.4 billion, most of it in back pay to furloughed workers who collected later for the inconvenience of staying home.
Elaine Kamarck, who worked in the White House during the 1995-96 shutdown and now directs the Brookings Institution's Center for Effective Public Management, said she remembers only about 30 essential staffers manning the Executive Office of the President instead of the hundreds who normally worked there.
Impact Will Build
Kamarck said citizens in the rest of the nation — including ones who rail about Washington — may think their state and local services are intact until the trickle-down effects of a shutdown become obvious.
“It will take a couple days, and things that people do not think are part of the federal government will start shutting down,” Kamarck said, because money from Washington is what keeps many of those services alive.
If the Tuesday shutdown materializes, it will be because of a similar standoff — a political struggle in a divided government over fiscal differences.
But the added complication is that Republicans want to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the president's healthcare law and his signature legislative accomplishment.
The White House has said that item is non-negotiable, which means that a deal to end a shutdown soon could be difficult to achieve.
Ironically, a shutdown would not halt or even delay the launch of federal and state health insurance exchanges set for Oct. 1 as part of the law, commonly known as Obamacare.