My yoga teacher commented this weekend that the government shutdown had impacted his own livelihood -- his biggest classes are those he offers at the Region 9 office of EPA, and they of course, have been cancelled. There are other business people -- in addition to the civil servants themselves -- being hurt in this city by the furloughing of federal workers. But ironically places like San Francisco -- which believe that the government is simply the way we collectively meet our social needs, not a monster to be "drowned in a bathtub" as Grover Norquist loves to pretend -- are actually going to pay a smaller price for the shutdown than the districts whose Representatives led the charge to inflict it.
The bulk of the pain of the shutdown is being felt in congressional districts where representatives either avidly sought or went along with the effort to take the entire United States hostage for Ted Cruz's phobia about Obamacare. I think, for example, of forest communities like Sierraville, Calif., where the U.S. Forest Service provides about half the jobs in town, or gateway communities like West Yellowstone, Wyo., where the entire economy is supported by the national park next door.
Arizona, whose House delegation provides a lot of fodder for the bonfire of responsibility that is consuming Washington, is an intriguing example. Back in 1908 when Theodore Roosevelt created Grand Canyon National Monument, the state's congressional delegation tried to deny funding and cut the size of the monument. Now Arizona House Republicans, when they are not denouncing Obamacare, are desperately scrambling to get Democrats to agree that Grand Canyon -- and other national parks -- should be classified as "essential" services (along with the military) to avoid the local economic destruction they have unleashed upon their own constituents. In fact, Arizona business leaders tried to raise private funds to keep parts of Grand Canyon open to visitors -- a proposal the Park Service had to turn down -- and Governor Jan Brewer tried to use state funds. Another conservative Republican, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard, lamented that he could not make a special exception for Mount Rushmore.
Indeed, only six days into the shutdown Congress had stealthily devised a new, 2013 version of the now banned "earmark." Republicans are seeking to take credit for piecemeal restoration of particular federal services -- ranging from the parks to NIH research to food stamps -- they think will be particularly popular in their districts, protecting them from constituent backlash against the furloughs and service cut-backs. These rump reopenings of bits of the government are being accompanied by fulsome rhetoric about how important the specific federal program being funded is -- even though in many cases the same Tea Party members of Congress only weeks ago were fulminating to cut these very programs.
It will be mostly Republicans who will need such earmarks -- a recent study showed that the percentage of total jobs represented by civilian government workers is strongly correlated with politics. Republican states have more of their work force dependent on government jobs than Democratic ones, with Wyoming leading the pack.
This weekend The New York Times interviewed voters in Representative Steve King's Iowa congressional district, and found deep concern -- not about the Affordable Care Act or even, thus far, about the shutdown -- but about the overall fiscal deficit which, in fact, will be worsened by the shutdown. Government is losing more revenues from the meat-axe cuts than it is saving in suspended services. But while the shutdown has not yet grown into a local crisis, it will. Rural districts like King's, for example, are completely dependent on the crop reporting services maintained by the Department of Agriculture to keep commodity markets working smoothly. As Professor Steve Schmidt, a political scientist at the University of Iowa put it, "There's a whole integrated system of government and policy that supports" the rural economy -- and a continued shutdown will unravel it in unpredictable ways.
Among the other examples of collateral damage from the first week of the debacle are the suspension of U.S. participation in critical Asian trade negotiations, a significant delay in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's schedule for reviewing and approving new nuclear power plants -- but not, it turns out, any major disruptions in the first week of the application process for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Tea Party hard-liners view such losses as a necessary price -- because their longer term project of drowning the national government won't survive a successful launch of the Affordable Care Act. But that logic is weaker for elected members of Congress, whose constituents, even in Steve King's district; don't think shutting down the government qualifies Congress members for a paycheck.
House Republicans, it seems to me, truly ought to be allowed to retire the "Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight" trophy. Either that or the NRA should offer them some lessons in marksmanship.
A veteran leader in the environmental movement, Carl Pope spent the last 18 years of his career at the Sierra Club as CEO and chairman. He's now the principal advisor at Inside Straight Strategies, looking for the underlying economics that link sustainability and economic development. Mr. Pope is co-author -- along with Paul Rauber --of Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress, which the New York Review of Books called "a splendidly fierce book."
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