With the prospect of a government shutdown looming as Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans battle obstructionist Democrats, I decided to turn back the pages of history and examine the effects of the most-recent government shutdown which began Dec. 16, 1995, and ended Jan. 6, 1996.
According to the Congressional Research Service report, “Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Effects, and Process,” the long shutdown that began in December 1995 had ripple effects through all sectors of the economy. Below are a few examples of the impacts of the shutdown offered by that report, said to be taken from congressional hearings, press and agency accounts:
Health. New patients were not accepted into clinical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ceased disease surveillance (information about the spread of diseases, such as AIDS and flu, were unavailable); hotline calls to NIH concerning diseases were not answered; and toxic waste clean-up work at 609 sites stopped, resulting in 2,400 “Superfund” workers being sent home.
Law Enforcement/Public Safety. Delays occurred in the processing of alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives applications by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; work on more than 3,500 bankruptcy cases was suspended; cancellation of the recruitment and testing of federal law-enforcement officials occurred, including the hiring of 400 border patrol agents; and delinquent child-support cases were suspended.
Parks/Museums/Monuments. Closure of 368 National Park Service sites (loss of 7 million visitors) occurred, with local communities near national parks losing an estimated $14.2 million per day in tourism revenues; and closure of national museums and monuments (estimated loss of 2 million visitors) occurred.
Visas/Passports. 20,000-30,000 applications by foreigners for visas went unprocessed each day; 200,000 U.S. applications for passports went unprocessed; and U.S. tourist industries and airlines sustained millions of dollars in losses.
American Indian/other Native Americans. All 13,500 Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) employees were furloughed; general assistance payments for basic needs to 53,000 BIA benefit recipients were delayed; and estimated 25,000 American Indians did not receive timely payment of oil and gas royalties.
American Veterans. Major curtailment in services, ranging from health and welfare to finance and travel was experienced.
Federal Contractors. Of $18 billion in Washington area contracts, $3.7 billion (over 20%) were managed by agencies affected by the funding lapse; the National Institute of Standards, was unable to issue a new standard for lights and lamps, scheduled to be effective January 1, 1996; and employees of federal contractors were furloughed without pay.
The 1995-96 shutdown lasted only three weeks and, as I recall, had a relatively minor impact on most Americans who were not dependent upon government.
If a government shutdown occurs this year and Americans are adversely affected, the blame rests squarely on one group of people, congressional Democrats who failed to pass a budget when they controlled both houses of Congress and, more recently, opted to place politics above the well-being of the nation.
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UPDATE 4/9/11 at 9:31 a.m. Central: Last-minute budget deal reached. Only $38.5 billion in cuts. Insufficient.