It may seem like only yesterday that the U.S. government shut down (actually, it was 2013), followed by promises from Republicans and Democrats alike: “Never again.”
Turns out “never again” may be next month.
Inside the Obama administration there is growing concern that Congress will be unable to resolve differences over the U.S. budget by Oct. 1, the start of the 2016 fiscal year, and will stumble into a shutdown though Republican leaders insist they don’t want one. Already, both sides have begun public relations campaigns to pin blame on the other.
Here are some questions and a few answers about how we got here and what’s at issue:
Q. So why do we have to care about this again?
A. Two separate disputes have become intertwined. The White House says government-wide automatic spending cuts known as sequestration are hurting the economy, and that President Barack Obama will no longer sign bills that continue them. Republicans want government funding cut off for Planned Parenthood, the women’s health provider whose services include abortion.
Q. Sequestration, right. What’s that again?
A. Back in 2011 Congress and Obama agreed to resolve a political crisis over the U.S. debt by creating a special committee of lawmakers to recommend ways to reduce spending. They couldn’t agree. So instead we got caps on domestic and military spending. The Congressional Budget Office says federal spending would increase $979 billion over the next decade if those limits are lifted. Sequestration is the technical term for the process that would be used if spending exceeds the limits.
Even some Republicans, notably the House Appropriations Committee Chairman, Hal Rogers of Kentucky, want to get rid of the caps, especially for the military.
Q. And what’s the deal with Planned Parenthood?
A. This summer, an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress released hidden-camera videos of Planned Parenthood executives discussing reimbursement for providing tissue from aborted fetuses to researchers. Conservatives were outraged and have demanded that Republicans stop federal funding for the group. Planned Parenthood denies that it sells fetal tissue and it’s forbidden from using federal money to pay for abortions.
Q. Is there a deadline to resolve all of this?
A. Yes. The current federal fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Without new appropriations, federal agencies won’t have authority to spend money starting the next day, with some exceptions for services that are considered essential such as the military, law enforcement and air traffic control.
Q. I hear Ted Cruz is involved. Didn’t he have something to do with the last shutdown?
A. That’s right. In September 2013, Republicans led by the Texas senator — who is now running for president — insisted on shutting off spending for the Affordable Care Act. (You may recall him reading Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” from the Senate floor.) Obama refused, and the government closed down for the first 16 days of October. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees and contractors were furloughed and federal services including national parks were closed. Republicans relented after public opinion turned against them.
Q. Republicans lost in the last shutdown. Who will get the blame this time?
A. Republicans, probably. Right now, about 41 percent of Americans say they’d blame congressional Republicans for a shutdown, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll released Aug. 31. Thirty-three percent say they’d blame Obama or congressional Democrats. The rest don’t know or would blame both sides.
“Republicans are going to get blamed for a shutdown, no matter what happens, by the general public,” said Stan Collender, a budget analyst and executive vice president at Qorvis MSLGroup in Washington. “They have too much baggage, too much history and it only seems to happen on their watch. But I don’t think they care.”
Q. So do they care?
A. Their leaders do. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has told members of his party that he doesn’t want another shutdown, Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, a relatively moderate member of the party, said on Wednesday. Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, has vowed there won’t be a shutdown.
Q. Then why would there be a shutdown?
A. Because Republican leaders can’t always control their rank-and-file members. Remember Cruz? He’s leading the effort to deny money to Planned Parenthood this year.
Q. Is there a way out of this?
A. Maybe. Republican and Democratic leaders are discussing a stopgap measure called a “continuing resolution” that would keep the government running after Sept. 30 and give them more time to work out a deal on a full-year plan. But some Republicans say they won’t even support a short-term bill unless it cuts off money for Planned Parenthood.
Q. Government shutdown: What’s closed?
1. Treatments for Children Suffering From Cancer – The GOP have agreed to a compromise by funding part of the government, including the National Institutes of Health, which offers children with cancer last-chance experimental treatment. Obama has threatened to veto this funding.
2. The World War II Memorial – The WWII memorial on the DC Mall is a 24/7 open-air memorial that is not regularly staffed. Although the White House must have known that WWII veterans in their eighties and nineties had already booked flights to visit this memorial, the White House still found the resources to spitefully barricade the attraction.
The Republican National Committee has offered to cover any costs required to keep the memorial open. The White House refused. Moreover, like the NIH, the GOP will pass a compromise bill that would fund America’s national parks. Obama has threatened to veto that bill.
3. Furloughed Military Chaplains Not Allowed to Work for Free – Furloughed military chaplains willing to celebrate Mass and baptisms for free have been told they will be punished for doing so.
4. Business Stops In Florida Keys – Although the GOP have agreed to compromise in the ongoing budget stalemate and fund the parks, Obama has threatened to veto that funding. As a result, small businesses, hunters, and commercial fisherman can’t practice their trade. While the feds have deemed the personnel necessary to keep this area open “non-essential,” the “enforcement officers” to ensure no business is done are “essential.”
5. Obama Blacks Out Sports, Entertainment Programming to Overseas Troops – The American Forces Network (AFN) that provides American sports and entertainment programming to our troops stationed abroad, has been shut down. For some reason, though, AFN News will still broadcast news, just not any of the popular and fun stuff.
Camp David is essential, but popular programming for heroes overseas is non-essential.
6. Obama Closes D-Day Memorial – The GOP have offered to compromise and fund the National Parks. Obama has said he will veto this compromise legislation. As a result, along with 24 other military cemeteries, the D-Day memorial in Normandy has been barricaded.
7. Obama Tries to Close Privately-Funded Mt. Vernon – Although George Washington’s Mt. Vernon estate is privately funded, the feds blocked visitors from entering the parking area because the Park Service maintains the lot. Apparently, the New Media publicity resulted in the feds backing down.
8. Obama Closes Over 100 Privately-Managed Parks That Cost No Money to Run – The U.S. Treasury actually makes money from the rent paid by a private company that “employs about 400-500 camp workers and managers across about a dozen states.” No federal money is used to operate these parks. No federal employees are used to staff these parks. Taxpayers make a profit from these parks. Still, Obama had them closed and as a result 400-500 employees and a private business are taking it in the neck.
9. Obama Closes Self-Sustaining Colonial Farm It Hasn’t Supported Since 1980 – “For the first time in 40 years, the National Park Service (NPS) has finally succeeded in closing the Farm down to the public. In previous budget dramas, the Farm has always been exempted since the NPS provides no staff or resources to operate the Farm.”
10. Obama Tries to Close State-Run Parks in Wisconsin – “The park service ordered state officials to close the northern unit of the Kettle Moraine, Devil’s Lake, and Interstate state parks and the state-owned portion of the Horicon Marsh, but state authorities rebuffed the request because the lion’s share of the funding came from state, not federal coffers.”
11. Obama Closes Vietnam Memorial – The GOP have passed compromise legislation that would fund national memorials and parks, and open them to the public. Obama threatened a veto. Apparently, the “essential” government employees are those erecting barricades, not those who could keep the memorial open.
12. Obama Closes Privately-Owned Hotel, Police Block Parking Lot – “The operator of a 51-room inn located on U.S. government-owned land in North Carolina abandoned his defiant stance on Thursday to keep the property open despite being ordered to close as part of the federal government shutdown.”
October is this inn’s prime season. The GOP have offered compromise funding opening the parks. Obama said he will veto that compromise.
State troopers blocked customers from entering the inn’s parking lot.
13. Park Service Ranger: ‘We’ve Been Told to Make Life As Difficult For People As We Can’ – “It’s a cheap way to deal with the situation,” an angry Park Service ranger in Washington says of the harassment. “We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can. It’s disgusting.”
14. Obama Forces Residents Out of Private Homes – “The government shutdown is being felt close to home for some locals. They say they’re being forced out of private homes on Lake Mead because they sit on federal land.”
The GOP have agreed to fund the parks. Obama has threatened a veto.
15. Acadia Park In Maine Shut Down – ‘”We’ve been training for two years at CrossFit for this hike — no kidding,” Hart said. She added that the shutdown should be as inconvenient for the Washington politicians who caused it as it is for average citizens.’
The GOP have agreed to fund the parks. Obama said he will veto.
16. Historic Restaurant Open During Last Shutdown Forced to Close – “An iconic Philadelphia restaurant has been forced to close its doors and turn away booked parties because of the government shutdown. …
“Restaurant public relations director Molly Yun said they were notified there was a possibility a closure might happen, but they were allowed to remain open during the last government shutdown 17 years ago.”
The restaurant is part of the federal park system, which the GOP have agreed to fund. Obama said he will veto the funding.
17. Obama Shuts Down a Road Tha Goes Through CO Park: “The Forest Service announcement, in turn, led the Pitkin County commissioners to order that Maroon Creek Road be shut down at the height of the colorful leaf-changing season. Ahead of what is to be one of the busiest weekends of the fall, the road is to be closed to vehicles at T-Lazy-7 Ranch, pending a resolution to the government shutdown.”
The GOP have agreed to fund the parks. Obama said he will veto that compromise funding.
18. Residents Plan Protest of Cape Hatteras Closing – “Businesses and residents on the Outer Banks have planned a peaceful protest of the closure of Hatteras Island’s beaches due to the government shut down.
“The U.S. House Wednesday passed a measure to reopen national parks and monuments. It will now go to the U.S. Senate.”
In the unlikely event the Democrat Senate passes the bill, Obama has threatened a veto of any compromise legislation opening the parks.
19. Obama Blocks People From LOOKING at Mt. Rushmore – “Blocking access to trails and programs at South Dakota’s most popular attraction was one thing, but state officials didn’t expect Congress’ budget stalemate to shut down a view of Mount Rushmore.
“The National Park Service placed cones along highway viewing areas outside Mount Rushmore this week, barring visitors from pulling over and taking pictures of the famed monument.
The cones first went up Oct. 1, said Dusty Johnson, Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s chief of staff. The state asked that they be taken down, and federal officials did so with some of them. The state was told the cones were a safety precaution to help channel cars into viewing areas rather than to bar their entrance.”
20. Crucial USDA Websites Taken Down – “The U.S. Department of Agriculture has turned off its entire website in response to the government shutdown, leaving farmers, reporters and others with no way to access any of the agency’s information online. …
“USDA’s total website shutdown goes far beyond the response of other federal agencies, and seems to be part of an effort to make people feel the effects of the shutdown. Thursday morning calls to USDA’s press office seeking an explanation were not answered.”
This website is down and yet the ObamaCare and White House websites are up.
21. St. Louis Gateway Arch Closed – The GOP have agreed to compromise legislation funding the parks. Obama has threatened a veto.
22. Park Shutdown Bounces Rowers from Potomac – “The ripple effect of a government shutdown has pushed rowers from the Potomac River.
“Multiple high schools rent space at the Thompson Boat Center in Georgetown. But like other places controlled by the National Park Service, it closed Tuesday morning.”
The GOP have agreed to compromise funding opening the parks. Obama has threatened a veto.
23. Thompson Boat Center Closed In DC – The GOP have agreed to fund the parks. Obama said he will veto.
24. Obama Closes Military Commissary – “Military members, veterans and families who shop at local tax-free store are shocked to discover the store’s doors locked; no progress to end stalemate in Washington.”
While the government has deemed the White House chefs “essential,” working class military personnel have lost their tax-free store privileges.
Military personnel and their families tell me that they have never lost these privileges in previous shutdowns.
25. Arizona Offers to Fund Grand Canyon, Obama Says ‘Drop Dead’ – “Obama has ordered the Grand Canyon to stay closed, even after the state of Arizona and local businesses have offered to cover the costs necessary to keep it open. In other words, the shutdown isn’t about the money — it’s about hurting the American people just because he can.”
26. Amber Alert Website Taken Offline – CNN reported that bad press was a factor in the site going back up.
Why would White House chefs and Obama’s golf course be categorized as “essential,” while the government classified as “non-essential” the Amber Alert website?
Of course, this is the same Obama threatening to veto cancer treatments for children.
27. Miramar Air Show Canceled With One-Day Notice -“The emotional and economic impacts of losing this year’s event are great, and I’m extremely disappointed in the political dysfunction that brought us to this point,” Gloria said.
“Proceeds from the event go to programs that support families of military personnel, he said.”
28. At Start of Peak Season, Parks Shutdown
All state and National Parks will be closed.
The GOP had agreed to compromise and fund some of the parks. Obama has threatened a veto.
29. Federal Prison Guards Not Getting Paid, Inmates Are – “Most of the employees at the federal prison in Forrest City are working without knowing when they will get a paycheck because of the government shutdown, but some of the inmates who get paid for the work they do inside will have no problem collecting their money.”
30. Family that Paid $2,000 for Permit Not Allowed to Raft – “Sorry for the inconvenience,” it read.
That’s when rangers told them they wouldn’t be able to put in on the river the next day, despite having paid $2,000 for a permit to do so.
“The news was shattering,” Scott Lee said.
31. Although Privately Funded, Historic Ford’s Theater Closed – “Ford’s Theatre, which is a private non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, does not use any federal funding or federal employees for its performances. During previous government shutdowns, the theatre has continued performances.”
32. King Crab Season Threatened by Government Shutdown – “The Alaska king crab season is set to start soon, but all the fishing boats will have to stay docked because the government must sign off on permits and quotas.
Obama’s golf course is open. So is the website for Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move.”
33. Children Might Lose School Lunches – “Minnesotans are adjusting to the partial government shutdown, but if it lingers too long, there is a chance the 300,000 kids who rely on free or reduced lunches at school could go hungry.”
The White House chefs have not been furloughed.
34. Feds Shut Down Major Roadway, Puts Children’s Lives at Risk – “Nearly a third of Blount County is inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. So when the federal government shut down the park, it also shut down one of the area’s chief sources of revenue.
“The children live in the eastern Tennessee community of Top of the World – serviced by School Bus 49. Normally, the bus travels along the Foothills Parkway. Other roads leading to the isolated mountain community are impassible by bus.
“”It’s dangerous,” said Nancy Kemp, the spokesperson for Blount County Schools.”It’s very curvy and straight up the mountain. It’s just not a safe route.””
The GOP have offered compromise legislation funding the parks. Obama has threatened a veto.
35. Road to Brasstown Bald Closed During Peak Season – “It’s not unusual for the road to the top of Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia, to be closed in the winter months but in early October, with “leaf-looking” season just around the corner?
“The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) announced Monday, though, that it is, in fact, closed. Why? At the request of the U.S. Forest Service and because of the government shutdown. The forest service operates the facilities on top of the mountain as well as the visitors center at its base.”
The GOP have offered compromise legislation to open the parks. Obama has threatened a veto.
36. Columbia Island and Washington Sailing Marina Closed – Email from reader: “My husband received an email from WSM saying that boat owners could only go to their boats to remove items. If they leave the slip with their boat they are not allowed to return to their (paid for) slip the government re opens.”
37. IRS Collections Operational, Taxpayer Advocate Office Closed – Per an email from reader.
38. Eleven Hundred Square Miles of Florida Ocean Closed – Email: “You omitted the ban on Florida charter boat captains taking fishermen into an 1,100 square mile section of ocean of the coast of Tampa. Apparently, government resources patrol it.”
39. Iwo Jima Memorial Closed, Barricades Erected – “Another open-air memorial in the Washington area is closed and barricaded off: the Iwo Jima Memorial, just across the bridge from D.C. in Rosslyn, Virginia. A source sends along this picture of the barricade set-up at the memorial, which is also called the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial.”
40. Police Remove Vietnam War Veterans at Memorial Wall – “Via William Jacobson, NBC’s affiliate in Washington, D.C. reports that police ordered tourists and Vietnam war veterans who were visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall to leave the memorial at one point on Friday.”
41. Shutdown Denies Death Benefits to Families of Fallen Soldiers – “The families of five U.S. service members who were killed over the weekend in Afghanistan have been notified that they won’t be receiving the $100,000 benefit normally wired to relatives within 36 hours of the death. The “death gratuity” is intended to help cover funeral costs and help with immediate living expenses until survivor benefits typically begin.”
42. Priests Risk Arrest for Offering Sacraments to Catholic Troops During Shutdown – “Some Catholic priests under contract or GS (general schedule) to the military are not allowed to offer the Catholic sacraments–including saying Mass, consecrating marriages, or performing baptisms–on military property during the government shutdown, and if they do, even on a volunteer basis, they risk being arrested, according to the general counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.”
Meanwhile, the White House chefs, Obama’s golf course, and the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” program remain essential.
43. Priest: Obama Admin. Denied Mass to Catholics – “Apparently, a priest was denied access to a military chapel this weekend. Father Ray Leonard serves at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia but because of the government shutdown, he wasn’t allowed to go to celebrate Mass this past weekend.
“He is contracted by the Defense Department to meet the spiritual needs of Catholics, but not now. The chapel doors were locked and the sign said, “Shutdown: No Catholic service till further notice.””
44. Yellowstone: Tourists Locked In Hotel Under Armed Guard Thought They Were Under Arrest –
45. Man Jogging in National Park Fined $100 – “A Pennsylvania man who went jogging in a national historic park was slapped with a $100 fine because the area was closed due to Washington’s budget impasse, he said Tuesday.”
46. Private Restaurant Owners Defy Govt. Shutdown Order, Fed Drop Hammer – “After a two-day return, the Cliff House will be forced to close again on Wednesday, and according to the restaurant, will remain closed for the duration of the shutdown.”
47. NIH Stops Therapy Dogs from Visiting Sick Children – “It should be noted that on the list of the top 1000 salaries in the federal government in 2011, 23 of the top 28 were officials at the National Institutes of Health; all made over $290,000 per year.”
(just to name a few)
Q. I’m a Republican. Can I blame Obama and the Democrats for this?
A. Sure. Obama’s threatened to veto every fiscal 2016 spending bill that House and Senate Republicans have produced so far, generally because he wants to spend more money. And House Democrats say they’ll help pass a short-term bill — if it doesn’t eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood and if they’re part of negotiations on a full-year plan that raises spending for domestic programs such as health care, welfare and education.
“Congress can pass a budget that does away with this so-called sequester that just lops things off whether it’s good or not for the economy, harms our military, hurts working people,” Obama said Monday in a speech to union workers in Boston. “We could instead invest in working families, invest in our military readiness, invest in our schools, rebuild our roads, rebuild our ports, rebuild our airports, put people back to work right now. I’ll sign that budget. I’m ready to work with them.”
Q. I’m an investor. Should I panic?
A. Nope. “Three weeks is an eternity by Wall Street standards,” Collender said. (But of course they’re going to say that).