The government shutdown, which may (or more likely may not) happen this week, is a big story. But mostly inside the Beltway, particularly for the news media, which hates peace and quiet, and politicians who see it as a chance to make the opposing political party look stupid, cruel or inept. No matter who controls the Congress or White House, the Democrats, at least since the Clinton-era shutdowns, have managed to come out smelling better than the Republicans.
But as far as big, real news, the shutdown, while rattling some in the federal community and re-energizing the talking heads out of Washington and New York City, isn’t such a big deal with the American public. People magazine — with a lot more subscribers than The Atlantic — has this week’s cover story and photo about the secret life of Heath Ledger, who died nine years ago. Odds are the shutdown, even if there is one, won’t make People next week either. Unless maybe Amy Schumer or Alec Baldwin are denied entry to a National Park because it’s closed.
The story of the shutdown — almost any of them — is that they are totally avoidable. Costly. Stupid. And the fault of politicians who spend more time away from their desks and responsibilities either vacationing, raising money (so they can get reelected), or trying to score points with anti-government groups.
During the last government shutdown, hundreds of thousands of federal workers were ordered to stay home. But in the end, they all got paid. So while it was a major hardship for many, what it amounted to for the taxpayers (of which feds do their share) was a late-season vacation that almost nobody enjoyed. Shutdowns don’t save money. They cost money.
No matter who is locked out of the office because of this (or any other) shutdown, the third rail of American politics will keep on running. The one in six Americans who get some form of Social Security check or benefit will get them. On time. No matter how long any shutdown lasts. The Social Security retirement and disability fund permits the all-important payments, which represent the entire retirement income of roughly one in three retired Americans.
Federal and postal retirees will also be unaffected by the shutdown. It draws money from the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Trust Fund.
So while the shutdown will be a tragedy (or political opportunity) for some, and fodder for the media, it won’t be much of a story unless the government shuts down for good. Now that would be news.
Have you been through a shutdown before? Were you required to stay home or go to work? How late was your paycheck? What did you do — or not do — during the shutdown? Love to hear your been-there-done-that story. We’ll protect your privacy, but we’d like to hear from survivors of past shutdowns.