How the shutdown can affect us all

Oct 3, 2013

I knew someone once who received a diagnosis of terminal cancer.  A few days later, after the initial shock, he told me that it was hard to believe, because he really didn’t feel that bad. Seven months later, he was dead.

I thought of this yesterday while thinking about the government shutdown. Most of our lives haven’t changed very much -- yet. We are starting to get used to this. We see the politicians squabbling on the news and are tempted to say, “A plague on both their houses.“

But to use a term borrowed from the long-ago Watergate scandal, the shutdown is a creeping cancer on not only government, but our lives. If Congressional leaders get in a room and solve it today or tomorrow, the long-term impact will be minimal. But the longer this goes on, the more it will rot the foundations of our society. 

Michigan’s budget director, John Nixon, is no screaming liberal. He is a Republican who came here from Utah. But two days ago, he made some observations that deserve attention. He told the Gongwer news service that if the shutdown lasts very long, it could throw the economy into a new recession. What he didn’t have to mention was that we’ve never fully recovered from the old one.

The poorest and the weakest will suffer first. There’s been a lot of moaning about the national parks, like Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, being closed. But what should be more worrisome is that Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and food assistance programs also are closed down. 

In Michigan, those programs will run out of money soon. “In two weeks, we really start to feel the pain. In a month, we’ve got a lot of problems,” Nixon said, problems, as in starving children.

The Women, Infants and Children feeding program, usually known as WIC, will run out of money in a little more than a week. Not long after that, the school lunch and child nutrition programs run dry.

When it gets cold, you can forget about low-income energy assistance. We are headed for a life-threatening, economy-destroying meltdown. The usually unflappable budget director essentially pleaded with Congress to stop this, saying, “This is just ridiculous. This didn’t have to happen. I don’t care what it looks like, just get it done.“ 

Yesterday, it was his boss’s turn. Governor Rick Snyder told reporters “People are already suffering. This is a big mess.”  There were signs some Republicans recognize this is likely to hurt their party. Congressman Mike Rogers of Brighton told a TV audience he wasn’t sure that shutting the government down in an effort to stop the Affordable Care Act made sense, saying. “I don’t think this is the smartest, best way to get what we want.”

But so far, the fanatics don’t agree.

Most people know that Dearborn’s John Dingell has been in Congress longer than anyone in history. Yesterday, he said he saw little hope of this ending anytime soon. “The Republicans have got themselves in a hole they can‘t dig out of, and they don’t know what to do,” he said.  “I’ve never seen it this bad.” 

If he’s right, we should be very afraid.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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