The government "shut down" at 12:01am this morning. I turned off the TV and went to bed. Today I am sitting in the living room of my apartment, a beautiful early fall sun in the sky, with an admittedly quiet city of Washington DC spread out before me.
The irony is, I am off work today not because of a furlough, but I'm sick. For those of us on the "essential staffing" list, the shutdown is a double-edged sword: we get to work and we get paid, but we do so with the sickening knowledge that our friends, our colleagues, and our employees are going without. That kind of uncertainty, in a town where houses cost $500,000 and the rent easily tops two grand a month, is heartbreaking.
Here's a few things to consider:
1. The shutdown doesn't mean "shut down." The government didn't close up shop and go home. Every office, to a lesser or greater extent, still has a skeleton crew in operation. What this means is that "essential services" will be provided, in a highly limited fashion. If you were planning on going to the Smithsonian today or Yellowstone National Park, forget it. Of greater concern is the fact a large number of SAFETY WORKERS are off the job today.
President Obama did not leave the country hanging. And he could have. In fact, a lot of us FAVORED that approach. The White House could have taken the "nuclear option" and grounded all air traffic, closed the ports, and sent border security home. Which would have meant no planes in the sky and anyone wanting to pop across the border would be free to do so. This is what is known as a "hard shutdown" - as things stand today, all those essential functions are still getting done. To call this a shutdown is largely a meaningless term at this point: the federal workforce is taking the hit, not so much the American people.
If planes were grounded, people stranded, and Jan Brewer suddenly had half of Mexico headed for her town, the GOP would have passed a spending bill first thing this morning. One of my chief frustrations with "libertarians" - whatever the hell the Tea Baggers are - is that they don't really understand how much they rely on government. Personally, I would have very much like to have awoken to an America learning that lesson today the hard way. But, as it stands, Obama genuinely cares about making the country work, even if his touch if often too soft.
It would be quite a thing to see if suddenly the government "went Galt."
2. This hits the low wage earners the hardest. Contractors, cleaning crews, administrative assistants, clerks, etc. It's hard to believe, but in a pinch political appointees, senior executive service members, and GS-13-15s can run their offices largely by themselves. It's hell to get it done, but it happens. It doesn't work well and it can't last for long. A lot of routine work just doesn't get done and the phones don't get answered, but the office will limp forward. The irony being, the folks doing the work are the ones least in need of a paycheck. Sadly, that's the way it has to be.
That, to me, is the tragedy of the whole fiasco - the best paid workers keep working. They have to; they run the show. The folks who work at Norfolk Yard and who cook the lunches and make the copies are home today. And they're the real drivers of the economy and the one's closest to default on their bills.
3. Congress is still open for business. Yup. It's another branch of the government, separate and co-equal to the Executive. Their budget is less than pennies compared to that of the Executive Branch.
4. Most of the people I know think this is "worth it." The Hatch Act means no talking politics on the job. But it doesn't apply to the Metro, the bar, or the food trucks outside. The selfish truth is - government just runs better when Democrats are in charge. Jobs get filled faster, the bills get paid, there's money from programs, there's a sense your big boss believes in government and isn't hostile to you or your career, and the political appointees are typically actual professionals.
I don't know of anyone in this town taking the GOP's side. My experience may not be universal, but I have a feeling that part of the reason the press is so hostile to the GOP on this one is because they can't find anyone to defend it. Last week I was drinking whiskey in a certain watering hole near a certain paper owned by a certain tech billionaire and a certain reporter was sitting in there getting dog-piled by patrons about the shutdown. (Believe it or not, that's how a lot of insider reporting around here seems to work.) If 100% of your bar buddies are against a thing - even the cranky guy left over from the Bush years - then you can go back to your editor safe in the notion that the Beltway has Spoken.
Basically, we all have good healthcare. I won't lie - it's GREAT healthcare. It's a REASON to work for the feds. And a lot of us are bothered by the fact that we get this great taxpayer benefit - a benefit not all taxpayers are, themselves, entitled to.
I look at it this way - we live in a country where, when you go bankrupt the Banksters can't take the tools of your trade. But they can take your health. How can you have "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" if you can't get your damn meds? So I think if you took a poll of the federal workforce, right now, you'd discover that a majority of us are willing to take a personal hit to get some real, meaningful legislation passed.
5. Nobody knows where this ends. The Head Shed at my agency last week was declaring that they thought it "unrealistic" that a shutdown would happen. And then it happened. Everyone's political instincts on this are malfunctioning. When Newt shut us down 17 years ago, he had a political aim in mind. His gamble backfired, but he was charting new ground. This is trodden ground, now. Even the GOP knows this hurts them next year. You've got 46 maniacs from the Tea Party who can sell this in their home districts as a win for their insane philosophy - that's the ONLY people in the GOP this ends up helping. At any moment Boehner can break the Hastert Rule and send a clean CR to the House. Hell, he can send the whole damn budget to the House floor right now and hit the links. It only takes the Pelosi Peeps and a handful of GOPers to pass the whole package. But for some reason Boehner is scared to do it. Most people I know think he's mortified by a power grab from Eric Cantor and that when he goes out, he wants to retire as Speaker, not as a disgraced former Speaker.
But no matter how you slice it, this thing is about individuals and egos, not a collective party strategy. The Dems - and this is a tough job for a party with a Jell-o backbone - only have to hold strong until the GOP caves. And they will cave. Obama could up the ante by threatening a hard shutdown come COB Friday. But to negotiate over this only emboldens the loonies that created this crisis in the first place.
8:59 AM PT: UPDATE 1: The Senate has rejected the House yet again. And the Senate GOP is calling for a budget conference after months of rejecting it. Hopefully the caving starts now.
10:00 AM PT: One of my friends - a single mom - just texted to let me know she's signed up for Obamacare. The GOPs worst fears are realized.
3:07 PM PT: Thanks for the Community Spotlight feature! After writing this, I took a long nap and my illness seems to be going away. Dragging myself to the office tomorrow to see what the landscape really looks like. If this drags on and gets more serious I will post a follow-up.