It’s Business as Usual – Mostly
The U.S. Congress will not let the President spend money the country cannot pay. Blame the President – President Abe Lincoln, that is – and most of the presidents before him.
A 150-Year Battle
After the Civil War, Congress passed the Anti-Deficiency Act. U. S. presidents had spent vast sums of unbudgeted money for 100 years. That practice forced the Congress into massive, unpredictable spending. Add the 1974 Congressional Budget Act, and the result is a 150-year spending battle between the President and Congress. The most recent skirmish is the December, 2018, Partial Government Shutdown.
This is not a new problem, but the Questions-of-the-Day the Jamestown Gazette asked were: Does it matter to us? And if so, how much?
“Serving the people is not a partisan issue,” was a statement we heard echoed over and over by the region’s citizens and elected officials. For another view on this topic, please see “Win, lose or cooperate” on page 8 of this edition.
Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello told the Jamestown Gazette last week that at the present time the county’s overall economy and services have felt very little impact, “… though I do not mean to minimize the personal impact on the small number of hard-working and vital federal employees affected in the county,” he added.
Most local banks, for example, according to Borrello, have created cash-flow forbearance procedures for furloughed (temporarily on unpaid leave-of-absence) and the working but unpaid federal employees with mortgages and loans coming due. “We’ve seen this before, so we have some ways to help. Nobody wants to see anybody get hurt.”
“We are, however, waiting on word from the Essential Air Services Program,” Borrello said, “related to the Department of Transportation shutdown. Every day of delay is a day later in returning airline service to Jamestown.”
Jamestown’s Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Bret Apthorpe, said, “So far, we [regional school officials] have heard no warnings of shortages in supplies or funding for school breakfast and lunch programs. Huge warehouses are already full and it would take quite a while for everything already in the pipeline to be used up.”
Jeff Smith, heading Jamestown School’s dietary services, adds to Apthotpe’s confidence by pointing out that almost all of the school system’s meal programs rely on local sources. And current stocks would take a long time to be depleted.
“There will be little to no impact to the State of New York or Chautauqua County,” New York State Assemblyman Andy Goodell reported, “unless the shutdown is a long one.” He defined a “long” shutdown as a length of time measured in months. Goodell also referred to a full pipeline of reserves, and added that the State of New York is funding much of the federal shortfall to keep many services in operation. He noted the example of New York keeping the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Federal Parks open, based on eventual federal reimbursement.
The United States’ annual budget weighs in at approximately $4 trillion. The specific funding issue that has triggered the current partial budget shutdown is about $5 billion, or just over one-tenth of one percent (0.13%) of the country’s total projected spending.
One legislator within New York State noted that the recent replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge, for example, connecting the towns of South Nyack and Tarrytown across the Hudson River, cost nearly $4 billion.
The State of New York alone manages $100 billion of federal funds, 20 times the size of the item currently blocking U.S. government operations. The amount in question in Washington is not seen by legislators as a “budget buster.”
Many local individuals and elected officials contacted by the Gazette for this story note that the partial government shutdown is bi-partisan. As a result, a solution will require the same.
“Our students are graded on whether they “play well with others,” one Jamestown educator said. “Maybe it is too simplistic, but shouldn’t our elected officials do the same?”
Furloughed or Unpaid
Agriculture – 100,000
Commerce – 46,600
Executive (Pres.) – 1,100
Homeland Security – 240,000
HUD – 8,000
Interior Dept. – 70,000
Justice – 116,470
State Dept. – 745,550
Transportation – 54,710
Treasury – 91,870
What is Closed?
Federal lawmakers have already funded most of the government through the 2019 fiscal year. These funded services include the Department of Defense, Postal services, Education, Veterans Affairs, Energy, Labor, Health and Human Services, the Legislative branch, and the Bureau of Reclamation.
The agencies unfunded on December 22 when the partial shutdown began, make up only about one-quarter of the federal government.
Overall, nine federal departments and smaller agencies have been closed. This has furloughed more than 380,000 federal workers. Another 420,000 employees, deemed “essential,” will work without pay until a funding bill is passed, then they will receive back pay.
New York State Assemblyman Goodell also points out that, though it may be little comfort now, the backlog of work will require significant overtime pay to catch up on. This benefits workers but illustrates one of the many ways a shutdown is expensive to recover from.
The following is a partial description of the disrupted services. The full list is far more complex, including a mosaic of paid, unpaid and furloughed workers. This list is illustrative only, not exhaustive.
The President, Supreme Court and Congress will be paid, but Senators and Representatives can voluntarily give up their salary during a shutdown. Many have done that in the past. Which ones have done so at present is not yet clear.
Particularly critical locally, at the Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 60 percent of federal workers remain on the job. Meat, poultry and processed egg inspection services remain, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for January, the Child Nutrition Programs, including School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and Adult Care Feeding remain in operation, along with Forest Service law enforcement, emergency and natural disaster response.
At Homeland Security, most employees are deemed essential in Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, and the Secret Service.
The Justice Department will continue criminal litigation. Some civil cases may be postponed. Federal prisons will continue to operate.
At Housing and Urban Development (HUD), only about 340 out of 7,500 employees are considered essential. Public housing authorities are not federal but some funding is, so operating hours may change.
The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Census Bureau are not publishing economic data. Law enforcement officials will continue to protect marine fisheries. Weather warnings will still be issued.
The Office of Personnel Management has prepared and distributed advice to federal workers on how to deal with landlords, mortgage lenders, and other creditors.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates radio and television broadcast, and cable systems. It has suspend most operations. Office of Inspector General will continue.
U.S. Coast Guard paychecks have ended until the government reopens.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) shutdown is estimated to disrupt up to 40,000 home sales each month.
At the Interior Department, the National Park Service has closed some national parks while a few are operating with a skeleton staff with no visitor services, restrooms, facility and road maintenance, and trash collection.
At the Transportation Department, almost half of the 55,000 employees are on leave. The Federal Aviation Administration has 24,200 working, including Air Traffic Control. The Highway Administration’s 2,700 employees are funded by other sources. Hazardous material safety inspections and accident investigations continue.
In the Executive Office of the President, about 1,100 of the office’s 1,800 employees are on leave, including most of the Office of Management and Budget, which helps implement budget and policy goals.
The local consensus among elected officials concerning the partial government shutdown is that it is not yet critical “on the street.” A small but important number of federal employees within the county, however, are in danger of lost or delayed income. They should be of special concern for the community’s assistance.
Quoting one [unnamed] local elected official, “Nobody wins when the two parties are “Playing Chicken” on the highway, racing toward a head-on collision at 90 miles an hour. The question is not who will or should swerve first, but why are they playing the game in the first place?”
The suggestion has been made that all voters contact their representatives and insist on bargain-and-compromise instead of a fight-to-the-death and winner-take-all. The fight distracts everybody from the issues that need solving. Write, phone, or email, and stay involved.