Who’ll lose if/when Republicans shut down the government (again)

WHO’LL LOSE IF/WHEN REPUBLICANS SHUT DOWN THE GOVERNMENT (AGAIN)…. With 12 days left until a possible, arguably likely, shutdown of the federal government, there’s quite a bit of talk this weekend over whether Republicans, just two months into the new Congress, will actually pull the proverbial trigger.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has offered a sensible way out, keeping the status quo in place for just a few weeks, pushing the deadline from March 4 to March 31. The point would be to leave more room for negotiations, though GOP leaders quickly rejected Pelosi’s plan.

The talk, not surprisingly, is dominating much of the Sunday shows this morning. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told “Face the Nation,” for example, he believes House Speaker John Boehner “seems to be on a course that would inevitably lead to a shutdown.”

But while the wrangling continues, it’s also worth thinking about the eventual consequences of the shutdown that may come a week from Friday. Newt Gingrich and congressional Republicans shutdown the government twice during President Clinton’s first term, and while some government functions have changed in the 15 years since, the L.A. Times reflects on what happened last time to help set the stage for what might happen this time.

The Constitution and U.S. statutes prohibit agencies from operating without an express appropriation from Congress, meaning a lapse in funding would trigger layoffs and fractures in services.

Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D- San Francisco) each said last week that a shutdown would delay Social Security checks and disrupt other services considered vital to millions of Americans.

In the 1995-96 shutdowns, Social Security checks continued to be mailed, although many government payments were delayed as officials struggled to keep enough employees on the job on an emergency basis, as laws allow, to continue service.

Many other Social Security services halted, including responses to requests for retirement and disability claims, address changes and Social Security numbers needed for work.

During that time, museums and national parks were closed and applications for visas and passports went unprocessed. A downturn in the housing market was blamed on a halt to transactions involving the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration, now called the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Government economic reports were delayed, and federal employees went without paychecks for as long as the shutdowns lasted. Claims for veterans benefits also faced delays.

In many respects, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect, because existing shutdown contingency plans haven’t been tested. There are ambiguities as to which government functions are considered “essential” — the Transportation Security Administration, for example, did not exist in 1996 — and decisions have not yet been made about officials expected to perform “emergency” services.

But remember, as far as some Republicans are concerned, it doesn’t much matter. Just a month before the midterm elections, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) not only welcomed a shutdown, he delivered a speech on what to expect. Americans, he predicted at the time, will say things like, “Daddy can’t go to the VA, the national parks are closed.” But, Westmoreland added, just so long as far-right activists stand with Republicans during the shutdown, the GOP will “hold the line” and fare better than the last time the party pulled this stunt.

Also note, the economy was much stronger in the mid-1990s than it is now. In 2011, we have a fragile recovery, which will be put at risk if most of the 2 million civilian government employees can’t work, can’t earn a paycheck, and can’t spend money.

Congressional Republicans, in other words, aren’t just playing with fire when it comes to public services — they’re putting the economy at risk in order to push brutal spending cuts, which also put the economy at risk.

Thanks again, midterm voters, for putting the country in this position.