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As a local reporter focusing almost exclusively on local events, it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with national news.
So when I recently discovered that the tug-of-war between Congress and the president over the 2011 federal budget could result in a government shut down I felt blind sided.
The looming threat of a government shut down comes as House Republicans and Senate Democrats grapple to reduce the $1.6 trillion deficit in the $3.69 trillion budget proposal President Barack Obama submitted to Congress on Feb. 14.
It’s no secret that federal agencies have been funded under a series of continuing resolutions since Oct. 1 in lieu of passing a federal budget last year, but I wonder how many people were aware that the latest resolution is due to expire Mar. 4, which means Congress and the White House have until then to pass some sort of spending measure to keep the government running.
While the two houses debate how deep cuts should be and exactly where cuts should be made, President Obama has threatened to veto recently passed Republican legislation that would cut $60 billion, according to Politico.com.
What’s worse, there’s no sign of a deal, the March 4 deadline to pass a spending plan swiftly approaches and Washington is abuzz with speculation of a shutdown.
The last government shutdowns occurred in 1995 and 1996 after budget talks between Congressional Republicans and Democratic President Bill Clinton came to a standoff.
Neither side blinked, resulting in two shutdowns that lasted a combined 27 days.
During the shut downs hundreds of thousands of federal employees were sent home without pay, nearly 500,000 were forced to work without pay, unemployment and welfare checks stopped, national parks closed, overseas travel was disrupted and home loans were put on hold, among other things.
The standstill cost tax payers over a billion dollars and greatly disrupted economic activity.
While the ‘90s economic boom helped cushion much of the economic impact of the ‘95 and ‘96 shutdowns, I can only imagine the effects would be catastrophic today with economic activity still sluggish from the recession.
House Republicans, led by then Speaker Newt Gingrich, received much of the blame in for the government shut downs in the ‘90s, but I question how fair that was considering Clinton wouldn’t budge either.
Debating federal budgets, as with any issues affecting millions of people, you’re going to have strong willed leaders looking out for what they think is in the best interest of the American people.
On one hand you have those justly concerned about the financial stability and national security of the U.S. considering the climbing $14 trillion national debt and perennial trillion dollar budget deficits.
On the other hand you have those who, also justly, fear cutting spending would overturn the cart with America’s financial health still shaky at best.
With the prospect of a government shut down looming all I can hope is that members of Congress and the White House can put aside their differences and reach a compromise before Friday.
Enough finger pointing, Washington. The American people are hurting bad enough without Congress or the president disrupting an already severely disrupted nation.