We’ve now entered the twelfth day of a federal government shutdown. Or so we’re told. I say that because to call what’s happening a “government shutdown” is pretty much a frontal assault on the basic meaning of words.
When I first heard—and read—the characterizations of the funding lapse from last Friday, part of me wanted to write a tribute to Webster. Because the hyperbolic drama emanating from the media, certain politicians, and pundits is so bad that it’s clear few people care about using words that describe what is factually happening.
It’s a partial government slowdown. Temporary. And its impact less than limited.
In fact, only 25 percent of federal spending saw a funding lapse.
The various agencies and departments affected include the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Transportation, State Department, Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, Treasury, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
But even among these affected departments, the Administration has already tapped essential services and employees to continue operating per normal.
The Department of Defense was already funded earlier this year. The Post Office is still operating. Social Security and Medicare—the two biggest drivers of our $22 trillion national debt—remain unaffected in large part because they operate off-budget from the annual congressional appropriations process as part of what is dubiously called mandatory spending.
Planes are not suddenly falling from the sky because DHS has seen a funding lapse. Roads are not suddenly cracking and undrivable because funding for the Department of Transportation is in limbo. Diplomacy has not screeched to a halt because the State Department is caught up in the funding battle. And food is not suddenly in short supply, with farmers unable to grow crops, because the Department of Agriculture is not operating at full capacity.
And the American people know this. If anything, this partial slowdown, while not even remotely close to the crisis that detractors want the public to believe it is, remains very important in the fight for the future. Because it is revealing just how unimportant vast portions of our federal government truly is for living our lives.
Characterizing what is happening in a “sky-is-falling” scenario will, in the long run, only help those of us who want to see actual shutdowns that are more frequent and more impactful. Because Americans will wake up to the fact that what happens—or what doesn’t happen—in a distant swamp town on the Potomac doesn’t interfere with the quality of their lives or the carrying out of their daily routines.
When the majority of the public comes to this realization, the fearmongering of “shutdowns” from a drama-obsessed media and chattering class will no longer work. And the fight to decrease our national debt will swing rapidly in the direction of those of us who want to preserve the future for the next generation.
In fact, the truth is the bipartisan failure to fight over spending levels and debate which programs should exist at the federal level is what has created our debt crisis. We’re $22 trillion in debt—and climbing—precisely because we don’t have such temporary funding lapses as often as we should.
A look at the raw numbers of the impacted departments shows precisely that. The number of “non-essential” federal employees is staggering.
At the Department of Commerce, some 86 percent of employees have been deemed “non-essential.” At the Department of Transportation, roughly 35 percent of employees have been determined to be “non-essential” to the functioning of the department. And at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the number of non-essential personnel stands at a jaw-dropping 95 percent.
Additionally, the agency inside the Department of Agriculture that oversees federal food stamps, known as Food and Nutrition Services, has also seen an incredible 95 percent reduction in its workforce since the funding lapse. If 95 percent of an agency’s personnel are non-essential, then perhaps it shouldn’t exist?
If 95 percent of the Department of Housing and Urban Development is non-essential, then why are we funding it with money we don’t have?
The great poet-prophet of our generation, Dierks Bentley, once longed for his departing love to slowdown so they could presumably talk things out. In fact, like a modern-day Nostradamus, he predicted what is happening right now. As he wrote in his famous prophecy, “Settle for a Slowdown:”
I must look like a fool, here in the middle of the road (a road not funded by DoT)
Standin’ there in your rear view, getting soaked to the bone (turning to acid rain due to EPA’s funding lapse)
This land is flat as it is mean, a man can see for hundreds of miles (the harsh terrain from lack of Interior oversight)
So I’m still praying I might see, the glow of a brake light (must be smog from EPA no longer regulating air quality)
But your wheels just turn, down the road ahead (an undiplomatic reaction to the State Department “shutting down”)
If it hurts at all, you ain’t showed it yet (said the American people about all the drama)
I keep lookin’ for the slightest sign (they’ve all been removed due to lack of funds at DoT)
That you might miss, what you left behind (but no one actually missed the Department of Commerce)
I know there’s nothin’ stopping you now (Social Security and Medicare taunting all of us)
But I’d settle for a slowdown
Indeed. Wouldn’t we all, Dierks? Wouldn’t we all?