Wasteful government shutdowns

U.S. Congressman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.)

October 7, 2013

There is no reason why the Congress should not be able to pass a clean, straightforward bill to fund continuing government operations.

But some Members of Congress insist on attaching unrelated provisions to advance their political agendas, forcing a needless political showdown and shutting down the government.

It is a dangerous game, completely at odds with the Constitutional oath to which every Member has sworn to ensure a properly functioning Federal government that can competently perform the essential services citizens have a right to expect.

In a shutdown, there are consequences for the economy. First and foremost, hundreds of thousands of workers who make our government work are furloughed without pay. And this does not just affect Federal employees, but also employees who work for private-sector contractors, and those — like restaurant workers, cab drivers, hotel workers, office suppliers, and countless small businessmen and women — who rely on the business of these Federal and contractor employees for their own wages.

There are disruptions in the lives of seniors and veterans and other Americans who depend on the timely delivery of critical government services and benefits. The lack of funds for employees’ salaries slows the processing and payment of new entitlement claims for Social Security and black lung beneficiaries and veterans. National Parks, museums, and monuments are closed, and visa and passport applications go unprocessed, resulting in huge losses to the U.S. tourist industries.

A shutdown is unfair and unjust to our troops and military personnel, some of whom do not get paid during a shutdown, and unfair to every American who has to suffer inconveniences when essential operations cease. A shutdown is immensely disruptive even to life-saving operations like the health and safety inspections for our coal miners.

By the way, every time agencies have to stop planning for the people and plan instead for a shutdown, it costs money. We don’t save money during a shutdown. It cost the government $2.1 billion during the last two shutdowns, because extra time and resources had to be invested by each agency before and after a shutdown so that essential services could continue despite mass furloughs.

I can think of a lot of ways those millions would be better spent right here in West Virginia, building highways, improving our water systems, and creating jobs.

It is far from reasonable for some Members to be trying to extract permanent, sweeping changes in law in exchange for allowing the routine business of government to continue temporarily.

Today, the demand may be about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. But, tomorrow, these same radicals could just as easily demand cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits for seniors and threaten to shut down the government if they do not get their way. And that is not such a far-fetched possibility. These same extreme Members who are now leading the shutdown of government have already proposed cutting Social Security and Medicare in their budget, a budget that I strenuously oppose.

Reasonable people can find common ground through the normal legislative process — and without forcing a government shutdown. Time and again, I have worked with Members of both parties and forged agreements on even highly contentious issues.

Once Members of Congress take the Constitutional oath, they must put their duties under the Constitution ahead of political games and their own political ambitions. Let’s be reminded, if it weren’t for compromise, we would not have our system of government that has served as so well for over 200 years.