Bureau of Land Management inspectors, whom the public relies on to monitor the oil and gas industry, would be reduced to a skeletal crew, unable to provide adequate oversight of hazardous industrial operations or to respond as usual to blowouts, spills, explosions, or other accidents.
The impacts of a government shutdown would span the full spectrum of our society. Most U.S. Department of Education employees would be furloughed, meaning that grants, loans, and other federal assistance to students, schools, and universities could be disrupted and curtailed. Workplace safety inspections would be curtailed and investigations into unfair labor practices would be suspended. Nearly all of the 1,200 staffers at the National Labor Relations Board would be furloughed, curtailing that agency’s ability to mediate labor disputes. The federal agencies that oversee the vast financial and commodity markets would furlough nearly all of their workers, suspending normal enforcement and regulation and only responding to emergencies.
Likewise, important economic data—such as reports on unemployment, retail sales, and housing starts—would be suspended, denying analysts, investors, and consumers the basic information upon which decision-making depends.
The 2018–2019 shutdown cost the economy some $8 billion in 2019 growth. Now, as policymakers strive to avert a recession while squeezing out inflation, economists say every week that the government is shut down will cost the economy $6 billion and shave 0.2 percent off of GDP growth.
Congress has no more basic job than to pass an annual budget to direct national resources to address the interests and aspirations of the country. That’s the first thing we have a right to expect from our elected officials, if nothing else.
That’s why the Constitution of the United States, drawing on a practice reaching back to the 17th-century British Parliament, endowed Congress with the power of the purse—the sole authority to tax the public and invest in priorities that reflect the will of the people.
Discerning those priorities, and funding them by passing a budget, requires political compromise, the seed corn of a healthy democracy. Instead, the business of the nation is being held hostage, yet again, to a hard-right faction working off the playbook of a sandbox bully: Do what I say—or else.
That’s not how a healthy democracy works. We elect members to Congress to serve as stewards of sound governance. The inability to govern well speaks to flawed leadership and political dysfunction. The inability to govern at all is abject failure. It’s time for the House majority to do its job—if it’s possibly able to do so—before we, the people, are forced to pay the price.