Have you ever heard about a government “shutting down” for lack of budget?… Or better said, for a political dispute over a legislation, leading to the breaking-up of the Congress on passing the bill, thus forcing the Government to shutdown due to lack of funding…humm?
This is not a Hollywood movie but it is still happening in the United States!
Of course you all have seen the news (Washington is all over the international headlines lately…), so without giving you a political lecture (Google does it much better than me!), I want to share what are the concrete effects of this situation in our daily lives, especially here in the capital of the United States where it all started…
Just a little background:
The federal government of the United States has shut down because Congress failed to pass the budget before the start of the fiscal year on October 1.
But this is more of a conflict between the Republican-dominated House of Representatives and the Democrat-controlled Senate. Some Republicans, many of them identified with the Tea Party movement, are in total opposition to the healthcare reforms known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or “Obamacare”, one of the flagship laws of Barack Obama presidency. Republicans insist to delay or defund Obamacare. Democrats are just as insistent to maintain it.
Despite the shutdown, some federal services regarded as essential do continue (e.g. the social security payments, active military, police and firemen, the postal service, air traffic controllers, to name a few). In many cases they are required to work but may not receive a pay check until the shutdown ends. However, a wide range of US federal government services have already shut down, with around 800,000 workers being “furloughed”, meaning they now have to stay home and might not even be paid for the duration of the closure (while Congress members still receive their monthly checks!).
The total economic impact is likely to be quite high if the shutdown persists (experts estimate that a 3 to 4 weeks shutdown would cost the economy about $55 billion).
Because of the shutdown, tourists (and locals!) have been locked out of major US sites, museums and national parks: the federally-run institutions including the famous Smithsonian free museums in Washington DC, landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty or national parks like the Grand Canyon have all been closed.
In the street of Washington DC, this is what you can read:
Until today, my personal experience of the shutdown was not too bad: the famous National Mall where I use to run on week ends, is practically empty!! Side roads are closed to traffic, and you can bike or walk freely everywhere.
But…today, I was going to attend a highly expected event: a conference by Bill Gates in person! And guess what? It was supposed to happen at the National Institute of Health…which is guess what? Closed! Conference cancelled (without notice). So not so positive after all…:(
There has been some exceptions -unfortunately mainly driven by political interests-…but still, the Veterans, who had traveled from their home states to DC, have been allowed to enter the World War II memorial built to honor their service…
The last shutdown 17 years ago lasted for 20 days and there are fears it could take a number of weeks for Congress to overcome this latest stalemate. But this is definitely an interesting time for me to be able to witness such an unusual political situation, alongside its whole social and human impact. USAID is currently still open until further notice, therefore we are still working for improving Global Health in the most needy countries! (As a GSK employee I would still be working anyway :-))
Let’s hope that the politicians will start thinking about the people affected by the government shutdown and take decisions that will enable the country to get out of that tangle very soon…!
Greetings from Capitol Hill! Bera.
NB: for a short description of the Affordable Care Act, have a look at this Obamacare 2 minutes video…