High-stakes game of chicken: Who's to blame for impending government shutdown?

News-DemocratSeptember 29, 2013 

— With the federal government on the brink of shutting down, Bill Tilley needed only a moment to decide who should take the heat for the high-stakes game of chicken between Democrats and Republicans.

"It's always politics," said Tilley, who was interviewed while walking his dog on East Main Street. "Both sides are to blame."

Tilley looked on one possible upside of the shutdown that -- barring some unforeseen drama -- is set to begin 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

"The government quits spending money," he said. "The downside it's going to affect travelers and things like that. But it's all politics."

Despite days of frantic maneuvering, a shut down of non-essential federal government services appeared virtually unavoidable as of Sunday evening.

In the wee hours of the same day, the GOP-led U.S. House kicked back to the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate a temporary spending bill with a pair of provisions top Democrats have already said they'd reject: a one-year delay in the start of Obamacare and a repeal of a medical device tax to help pay for the landmark healthcare reform law.

For the first time in 17 years, the federal government faces a shutdown that could force millions of federal civilian workers -- including 4,500 at Scott Air Force Base in Mascoutah -- to stay home without pay come Tuesday morning and that could cause a delay in paychecks sent out to 1.4 million active duty personnel.

Essential services and programs will continue, including the federal courts and federal prisons, while Social Security and IRS refund checks will continue to go out, though their processing could be slowed down because of the furloughing of administrative workers.

Meanwhile, non-essential federal programs will furlough almost all their workers. As a result, such national landmarks as the Washington Monument and the Gateway Arch, as well as other National Park Service attractions, will shut down almost immediately.

Republicans and Democrats continued to blame one another for the impending shutdown over the weekend.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, issued a statement Sunday noting the House vote a few hours earlier was aimed at averting a government shutdown by funding government operations through Dec. 15 and delaying the implementation of the Affordable Care Act for one year.

"This marks the second vote taken by the House to avert a government shutdown," said Davis. "After our vote last week, the Senate waited an entire week before acting. There simply isn't time for the Senate to delay once again."

U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, issued a statement late Saturday night in which he promised to vote against the House continuing resolution on the grounds that a shutdown would hurt the nation's economic recovery.

"That's what will happen if the federal government shuts down, millions of employees are furloughed, and the financial markets tank," Enyart said.

Congress has a basic responsibility to approve budgets and pay the bills, he said.

"Common sense tells us that's what needs to happen," Enyart said. "It's too bad that common sense is in short supply right now in Washington."

Public opinion surveys in recent days show voters overwhelmingly oppose a shutdown. Eighty percent of respondents in a New York Times/CBS News poll released Sunday said that threatening a government shutdown during budget debates is not an acceptable way to negotiate, while 16 percent think it is.

President Obama received credit from 51 percent of respondents for reaching across the aisle and trying to work with Republicans in Congress. Only 23 percent of respondent said they believe Republicans are trying to work with Obama; 70 percent say they are not.

Davis announced that he had signed on as a co-sponsor to the Government Shutdown Fairness Act, which would prohibit members of congress from receiving a salary in the event of a government shutdown.

"A government shutdown is always unacceptable as is its negative effects on seniors and our men and women in uniform," said Davis. "The bottom line is that if there's a government shutdown, it's due to Congress failing to get the job done, so they should not receive pay."

The prospect of a government shutdown set off alarm bells for economists and political scientists. They warn a shutdown could inflict immense harm on the economy, especially in rural areas that depend heavily on the timely flow of federal checks to keep open rural hospitals and nursing homes, and to keep afloat families that depend on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

But Washington pundit Ezra Klein saw a silver lining in the decision by House conservatives to demand the defunding of Obamacare, and using the threat of a government shutdown as their leverage.

As a result, the passage of a debt limit increase by Oct. 17 will be easier because it will persuade "outside actors" -- including business leaders and Wall Street executives -- to leave the sidelines and begin pressuring GOP leaders into cutting a deal with Democrats, Klein wrote in the Washington Post's Wonkblog.

Up until now, everyone had expected that Democrats and Republicans would be self-interested enough to avoid a shutdown, Klein wrote.

"A shutdown will prove that comforting notion wrong, and those groups will begin exerting real political pressure to force a resolution before a default happens," he wrote.

The incentives to avoid a debt default are much greater than avoiding a government shutdown because the consequences of a default are so much worse, including the potential collapse of the world's credit markets, according to Iowa State University economist Davis Swenson.

"If they screw up and really shake up the business community, they're going to hear it," Swenson said of Tea Party Republicans pushing hardest for a shutdown.

Swenson agreed with Klein that Wall Street might play a crucial role in averting a debt default.

"It's awful for a guy who's a firm believer in democracy to say wait for the plutocrats to come to the rescue," Swenson said. "But it well could be those barons of business might very well put the kibosh on this."

As night descended on downtown Belleville, Janet Chitwood thought there was blame enough for everyone if a shutdown occurs.

Chitwood, a Postal Service employee from Wood River, sat with a friend at a picnic table set up outside Friday's South, at 624 S. Illinois St.

Chitwood said she'd like to see Obama give in on Republican demands to delay Obamcare.

"But I don't think he's going to do that," Chitwood said. "He already said he's standing firm. He's not backing down."

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