Imagine being a store-owner, merchant or business person in a company town — Dayton, Ohio; Huntsville, Alabama; Los Alamos, New Mexico; Elizabethtown, Kentucky; or Washington, D.C. — when the primary employer, Uncle Sam, furloughed 40 to 80 percent of his workers four days before Christmas.
Talk about a major gut punch to an already jittery stock market.
Hard as it may seem to Earth observers from another galaxy, the main engine of the largest economy on the third planet from the Sun (that would be us) is threatening to send most of its human workers, anywhere from 380,000 to 800,000 people, home for the holidays without pay. This is at a time when its long-running, formerly smooth sailing stock market has developed a case of the hiccups.
Telling people they can’t work but probably will eventually get paid someday during the biggest shopping season of the year doesn’t make sense to a lot of folks. Except in Washington, where the people who make shutdown decisions and work for the same government are exempt from shutdown rules. Congress and the White House will continue to “work” and get paid regardless of how long any government shutdown lasts.
The Washington-Baltimore area is home to five of the 10 richest counties by median income in the country. And Uncle Sam (Amazon notwithstanding) is the driving force in the economy. But the government is an equally big deal, in some cases even more important, in many communities along the elite east and west coasts and even more so in “flyover country,” which gave President Donald Trump his electoral vote victory. In many small to medium sized communities the IRS service center or Department of Veterans Affairs hospital sets the tone for the local economy. A federal prison, VA hospital or IRS service center is a source of steady income, even during a recession. That’s except when Washington-based politicians shut them down. Ask folks in San Antonio, Texas; Ft. Knox, Kentucky; or Norfolk, Virginia, how they feel about Army, Navy and Air Force bases.
Many members of Congress from both political parties don’t want a government shutdown, especially not before the Christmas shopping surge. But they are politicians and they often play more to win than do the right thing, or at least to ensure the other side gets the blame if things go bad.
It’s like a ticking time bomb government shutdown before Christmas. Many also suffer from short memories because shutdowns nearly always backfire. And in past shutdowns, right or wrong, fair or foul, Republicans got the blame. This time that is all but guaranteed.
Cross your fingers and toes, if that’s doable. What could possibly go wrong, right?