Reliving the Government Shutdown

In two weeks the government may shut down. Should you fear it? Probably not. Let me tell you a story.

In 1995 the Federal government was also in danger of shutting down. The House of Representatives had a Republican majority, led by Newt Gingrich. The fiscal year had begun almost three months earlier and there still was no budget in place. The government was living on two week temporary budget agreements called continuing resolutions, or CRs in budget language.

Now the House of Representatives is constitutionally responsible for telling the government how much it can spend, not the president. The Republicans did their job and sent President Clinton a CR to continue funding the government for another two weeks. Clinton refused to sign it and somehow that became the Republicans fault. Neither side flinched and the Federal government stopped for lack of money.

I worked for the Social Security Administration when all this happened. The staff was sent home and management had to man the offices. I was sent to our branch office to help the manager there with the angry mob of Americans who would storm the office.

We could only keep the lights on over the reception desk. We didn’t have a budget, so we couldn’t pay for electricity.

We had to turn the heat off. We didn’t have a budget, so we couldn’t pay for heat. Know now that the manager and I insubordinately disobeyed orders and actually turned on the heat. It was December in the mountains of upstate New York and we were not going to freeze our butts off for some politicians. They may have been stupid. We were not.

We couldn’t turn on the computers. We didn’t have a budget, so we couldn’t provide services to the public.

We couldn’t answer the telephones. We didn’t have a budget, so we couldn’t pay the phone bill.

You can see where this is getting rather absurd. The doors were unlocked and people came in. The first question was always why was it so dark in here? Try to explain to a normal person why you are standing in a dark building when the light switch is on the wall behind you. We gave them the party line about lack of funding and government shutdown with a straight face and usually got laughter or comments about politicians being a bunch of idiots from the people.

This went on for two weeks. Nobody died from lack of Federal spending. On January 3rd the Social Security checks went out. No mass starvation. You would have remembered if millions of people died. The employees who were sent home got their paychecks retroactively after the Republicans and Democrats mutually satisfied each other egos. In fact, if you were lucky enough to be on scheduled vacation during the shutdown, you got your vacation time back! After all, using bureaucratic logic, vacation (known as annual leave) is an approved absence from work. And, since the government was shut down, nobody was working. Therefore, viola! How could you possibly be on annual leave? You can’t, so you got your vacation time back.

We are now looking at a desperately bleak situation with $14 trillion debt and a president who wants to keep on spending. We elected conservative candidates to Congress to stop this mad, mad spending, balance the budget and start getting this debt monkey off our backs.

Mr. Boehner, you are responsible for determining how much the Federal government should spend. Send your budget to the Senate. If Harry Reid and Barack Obama refuse the money that you send to them, it will be their fault that the government runs out of money. Stand your ground. We will support you when you do the right thing.

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