The government has been effectively ‘shut down’ for seven days now, and for the most part, our lives as Americans have gone on without interruption. Of course, I’m sure the 20 percent of government workers whose salaries have been furloughed would disagree, but for the most part life has carried on in normal fashion, despite the internal war being waged in Congress over the future of the national budget.
So just how shutdown is the government? Anyone who watched the commentary from the Senate floor on Monday would have ample cause for worry; the Democratic Senators made it sound like we would all suffer from the actions of the Republican House. If this is truly a big deal – if the majority of governmental function has ceased – why are Americans so largely unaffected?
That would be because this big, scary shutdown is effectively stopping only 17 percent of standard government operations, in terms of money being spent. That would be because the government hasn’t shutdown at all. As Byron York notes in a Washington Examiner article:
“…The military pay act, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama at the beginning of the shutdown, is actually a huge percentage of the government’s discretionary spending in any given year. And that is still flowing. So if you took that money, and added it to all the entitlement spending that is unaffected by a shutdown, plus all the areas of spending that are exempted from a shutdown, and added it all together, how much of the federal government’s total spending is still underway even though the government is technically shutdown?”
The answer: a whopping 83 percent of the national budget is still effectively being spent which makes the inaccurately called “shutdown” more of a government slimdown, and a weak one at that. Beyond the passing of the Military Pay Act, which spends $225 billion on military and civilian staffers, the government is also spending $2 trillion in entitlement benefits to those found exempt from the shutdown. And while our elected officials argue over how much or little we should increase the national debt, at least the government is continuing to pay interest costs on all the money it has borrowed, which comes out to around $237 billion.
All told, the government shutdown looms low, and meekly unimpressive. The House has also passed legislation that allows for pay-back to all the furloughed government employees (although 80 percent of 4.1 million on national payrolls remain at work during the slimdown), in addition to bills focused on veterans’ needs and reopening the national parks. It is hard to see exactly who is feeling the strain of shutdown; and harder still to envision a scenario that leads to a congressional compromise.
So if it doesn’t seem that very much has changed at all, compliments of the government “shutting down,” that would be because not much has. And it is hard to tell which side is winning this dispute – or if there will be any victory to be had at all. Why should either side of the isle be particularly keen to reach a compromise, when there is no one to feel the pain of their divisive stalemate?