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An ill-conceived federal government shutdown could soon be imposed on America by hard-right members of the House of Representatives.
The House, led by Bakersfield Republican Kevin McCarthy, has 435 members. At least 52 of them are members of the so-called Freedom Caucus, a far-right group that seeks to impeach President Biden and cut federal expenses, among other goals. They are angry with McCarthy for the deal he reached with President Biden on the deficit cap because, they said, it allows for too much spending. So now they threaten to oppose bills to keep the government running once the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.
Without those bills approved, only essential services and mandatory spending programs can continue. Everything else stops.
Over the weekend, three members of the Freedom Caucus met with three GOP colleagues of the so-named Main Street Caucus, a more moderate group of conservatives, to hammer out a short-term funding deal that would avert any shutdown. But four other members of the Freedom Caucus have already stated opposition to the deal, and McCarthy can only lose four GOP votes if he hopes for any passage.
Assuming a stalemate continues, the public will feel the burn directly at national parks.
In 2013, when faced with a similar government closure, the Park Service packed up shop entirely. No visitors were allowed into places like Yosemite National Park. Imagine not being able to visit Yosemite, Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon. Nationwide, the closure resulted in an estimated $500 million loss in visitor spending.
Political gridlock occurred again in 2018 and early 2019, but this time the parks stayed open. However, staff were furloughed and facilities, like rest rooms, were closed. National parks were predictably trashed by visitors who inconsiderately did not haul out their garbage. Cleaning up the mess took extra money that was unbudgeted.
It is beyond sad to think that Yosemite might get trashed again, and yet, that is what could well happen if 50 or so House members have their way.
Scott Gediman, a Yosemite spokesman, said park officials had “no information” on what the response would be to any shutdown.
Besides Yosemite, there are 33 other Park Service entities in California — parks, monuments, recreation areas, historic sites and trails, and a preserve, a memorial and a seashore. All would be affected by a government shutdown.
Risk to Yosemite
It bears emphasizing that there is only one Californian who has publicly acknowledged being in the Freedom Caucus — Darrell Issa from the San Diego area. He said in recent weeks that Congress has an obligation to keep funding the government and he was willing to compromise.
Other caucus members, however, are not so charitable. Rep. Ralph Norman, of North Carolina, has said “If a shutdown occurs, then so be it if they’re not gonna stick to what (McCarthy) agreed to, which is starting on a path of financial security, which we don’t have.”
There are two sides to the coin of financial security, of course. One is cutting spending — the only side Norman and the rest of the Freedom Caucus care about. But there are also revenues. If the government generated more money, deficit spending would drop. According to an analysis by the Peter G. Peter Foundation, “The current tax rate for corporations is less than half the size it was in the 1950s and ‘60s.”
The foundation, a nonpartisan advocate for a strong economy, also notes this: “The United States will forgo $161 billion of revenues in 2023 as a result of tax expenditures, or special tax code provisions, for corporations.”
Fresno Democratic Rep. Jim Costa says there are other impacts from a government shutdown:
▪ National Institutes of Health (NIH) would be prevented from admitting new patients or processing grant applications.
▪ Funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is mandatory, but the ability to send out “food stamp” benefits could be affected.
▪ The Smithsonian museums would close.
▪ The Food and Drug Administration will be unable to support a number of its food safety activities
▪ Loans to small businesses through the Small Business Administration will stop.
▪ There can be air travel disruptions, including delayed or reduced travel, and impacts to air traffic control.
▪ Nearly 190,000 federal employees in California would not get paid or be able to do their jobs.
The IRS and Veterans Administration will keep operating, and Social Security and SSI checks will still go out.
But, “A government shutdown ultimately adds to the federal deficit due to the costs of stopping and restarting government programs,” said Anthony Camacho, Costa’s press secretary.
What a mess
To sum up, the destructive politics of a handful of House members could plunge the federal government into a shutdown. The Senate has passed spending bills on a bipartisan basis. But McCarthy has been unable to wrangle his unruly Freedom Caucus colleagues.
Making matters worse for him, some of those Freedom Caucus members are threatening to try to vote McCarthy out of his speakership.
What a mess. How ridiculous, and how totally avoidable.