Would it be a terrible thing if the government shut down? Not at all — especially since the essential parts of the government wouldn’t shut down at all:
A federal “shutdown’’ is more like a massive downshift — the federal government reaches too deeply into the crevices of daily American life to close. Social Security payments would still be made. Air traffic controllers would scan the skies. The mail should arrive at the doorstep.
“Nobody wants the guards heading off from federal prisons, saying, ‘Sorry, no one’s paying us, we’re out of here,’ ’’ said Stuart Kasdin, a public policy professor at George Washington University who was a manager at the Office of Management and Budget during the last federal shutdowns, in the mid-1990s.
It’s unclear how many federal workers would actually receive furlough notices. But during the last shutdown at the end of 1995, only about 10 percent of the executive branch’s 2.8 million civilian workers were forced to take furloughs for as long as three weeks — about 280,000 workers.
…What actually shuts down are the pieces of the bureaucracy considered nonessential — starting with the stuff Americans really like, such as the national parks. “The good parts are the parts that go,’’ said Representative Edward Markey, a Malden Democrat.
That means no family vacations to the Grand Canyon — access to the popular site would be closed in a shutdown. So would the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., so no family photos in front of the Spirit of St. Louis or the Hope Diamond.
In the 1995-96 shutdowns, 368 National Park Service sites were shuttered, disappointing 7 million would-be visitors, according to reports from the Congressional Research Service.
Those shutdowns also created a variety of headaches no one foresaw: When workers at the National Institutes of Health were sent home, nobody was left to feed hungry lab animals. And no one anticipated the outcry when the Christmas tree on the National Mall in Washington went dark. “It was just such a minor expense anyway, but it was symbolic,’’ said Alice M. Rivlin, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who headed the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton. “People didn’t think that closing down the government would mean that they would turn off the tree, for goodness’ sakes.’’
In other words, a government shutdown really doesn’t do all that much. Some parks shut down and some non-essential personnel don’t go into work. Whoop-de-doo.
Still, I don’t want to see the government shut down. Why?