The following guest column was written before the federal government shut down Oct. 1:
by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo.
President Obama recently visited our area to talk about the improving economy, the importance of growing the middle class, and the looming issue of a government shutdown. I believe the dysfunction in Washington and the ideological demands we are hearing, are threatening to take this nation down a very dangerous and partisan path. A government shutdown will hurt our economy, threaten jobs, and leave our families and our country with less security, certainty, and stability. Put more simply, it’s ridiculous.
We have seen the specter of these threats loom large over the last years—but now it seems the prospect may be all too real. As of this writing, Congress is evaluating a number of options, each one worse than the last. On Tuesday, Oct. 1, our current Continuing Resolution to fund the government will expire.
As the President spoke to the employees of the Ford Stamping Plant recently, he explained again, what we already know. A government shutdown will impact them, and all of us. It will mean that many of our agencies will shut their doors, hurting seniors, families, businesses, and children. From the Centers for Disease Control, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the National Park Service, to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the State Department, and more -- many offices will be almost entirely closed. That means public servants will suffer and Americans who depend on their service will too. According to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Fifth District is home to 44,371 government workers. They are not the only ones who will be impacted, but their sacrifices will be the most severe. Further, a shutdown will actually cost the government and the taxpayer money, hinder the economy, waste billions of dollars in federal funds and scare the markets. Even now, Congress’s indecision is already causing a slowdown in normal operations for agencies and businesses. The Office of Management and Budget estimated in 1996 that the two closures in that fiscal year, which lasted 26 days total, cost the government $1.4 billion, or roughly $2.1 billion in today’s dollars.
I have spoken with constituents throughout Missouri’s Fifth District, Republicans and Democrats, and virtually everyone agrees. This is no way to run a government. A CBS poll out this week says 80 percent of Americans agree it is not appropriate to threaten shutdown to achieve goals during budget negotiations, including 75 percent of Republicans.
We have put forth a responsible, balanced alternative, authored by Budget Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen, to fund the government and end the devastating, across-the-board cuts of the sequester. It contains a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases in order to reduce the deficit in a responsible way. I am certainly open to debating the budget, our policy priorities, and how we should best serve our constituents. I am not, however, a believer in shutting down the entire government simply because my “side” cannot get what we want.
As if a government shutdown wasn’t bad enough, some in Congress are determined to hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage to their radical agenda. The full faith and credit of the United States is non-negotiable. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling poses a cataclysmic danger to the stability of our markets and the economic security of our middle class. As Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stated last week: “A government shutdown, and perhaps even more so a failure to raise the debt limit, could have very serious consequences for the financial markets and for the economy…”
The President urged local workers to speak out and let elected officials know that this is not the answer. While no one knows with certainty the full extent of the damage to the economy if the U.S. defaults on its debts, the cost to American families will be significant with:
• Higher interest rates for mortgages, auto loans, student loans, and credit cards.
• Higher interest rates and less access to business loans needed to finance payrolls, build inventories, or invest in equipment & construction.
• Families’ retirement savings in 401(k)s dropping as the stock market plummets.
• 3.4 million veterans not receiving disability benefits.
• 10 million Americans not receiving their Social Security check on time in just the first week.
• Drug reimbursements under Medicare stopping, and doctors and hospitals not getting paid.
The American people have seen enough. We have had enough. Our country cannot afford another manufactured crisis. It’s time for us to honor America’s commitments, create jobs, and strengthen the middle class.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver represents Missouri’s 5th District.