The extreme partisanship that has plagued Washington, D.C., for the past four years is dragging America to the brink of disaster—again. Republicans and Democrats currently are engaged in high-stakes negotiations over the 2014 budget, and if they don’t agree on how the U.S. will pay its bills over the next week, the federal government will shut down come Dec. 16.

With the U.S. economy taking its first tentative steps toward recovery, a shutdown could be devastating. According to the Congressional Research Service, the last two shutdowns, in late 1995 and early 1996, cost about $1.4 billion.

“This is no way to run a government,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). “When you think about the main role the federal government plays in this country—paying for air traffic controllers, water security, overseeing national parks and more—everyone in America will feel it if the government goes into shutdown.”

At issue in this year’s budget talks is the Affordable Care Act, the premier legacy of President Obama’s administration. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30, but a short-term Continuing Resolution was passed to maintain funding until Dec. 15.

However, House Republicans inserted a provision to defund the health care law and Democrats and the President say that’s just not going to happen.

“In the 113th Congress, Republicans choose continuously to ignore the challenges the House should be addressing, instead voting over 40 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Now, their insistence on dogmatic relitigation of the ACA is taking our country to the brink of a government shutdown,” said Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) in an e-mailed statement. “This is irresponsible, mean-spirited, and certain to cripple our economy, and hurt the women, children, and families who need access to affordable, quality health care.”

Cummings said the charge is being led by a group of about 50 Tea Party Republicans whose “biggest beef” is the so-called Obamacare, which they are “determined to destroy.”

“And if they can’t defeat it, they don’t mind shutting down the government and wreaking havoc in our nation,” he said. “They are that determined.”

The Maryland Democrat said Republicans are trying to corral the president into a position where he would be forced to at least delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act. But even a delay—and certainly a repeal of the law—would undermine the ability of millions of Americans to finally attain access to health care, Cummings said.

“It could be one of the worst things that could happen to this president and this country,” Cummings said.

A federal government shutdown would be especially detrimental to Washington, D.C., whose budget has to be approved by Congress.

“It is a great outrage!” said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton ( D-D.C.) “Our budget has no business in the Congress because it contains not a dime of federal dollars. But because Congress has not done its work, D.C.’s budget is caught in a federal dispute having nothing to do with D.C. at all.”

The lack of autonomy means that the local government will go into shutdown, as well.

“What it means for D.C. residents is that services (such as trash pickup) will stop unless they are essential services,” Norton said. “Police officers and firefighters will continue to work, but they will not be paid until shutdown is lifted because we won’t have our own money.”

And there would be other “catastrophic” costs. In a letter to House leadership, in which she asked that D.C. be authorized to spend its money should a federal shutdown occur, Norton said if the District’s government is brought to a standstill, it could default on its financing agreements, thus sending the city’s borrowing costs sky high.

“The District government has worked too long and hard, including accumulating $1.5 billion in reserves, one of the highest amounts in the country, since its financial crisis in the mid-1990s to develop an outstanding reputation on Wall Street to see it erased over a shutdown,” she wrote in the letter dated Sept. 19.

The failure of Congress and the White House to arrive at a timely resolution to their money squabbles also could impact the country’s global financial standing and impede its slow-moving economic growth.

In terms of services, national parks, museums and monuments would be closed, resulting in the potential loss of millions of tourism dollars. Visa and passport applications would be delayed, as would applications for firearms licenses and many more services. Social Security and veterans checks would be issued, but could be delayed. Military and essential personnel, such as air traffic controllers, would have to work but won’t be paid until a new appropriations deal is made. And millions of federal employees would be furloughed.

The constituencies served by Norton, Cummings and Edwards would be directly impacted since many federal government employees live in Maryland and the District. For example, Edwards said more than 95,000 of her constituents in Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties would find themselves on furlough should the government shut down.

“It is a shame that Republicans care more about placating the extreme flanks of their party than the 2.1 million federal workers who will not receive paychecks, the veterans who will not receive disability payments, and the seniors who will see delays in receiving Social Security,” Edwards said.

She said she hopes Republicans will think twice about the cost of their obstinacy.
“As we move forward, it is my hope that common sense prevails and we can work together to create jobs and invest in America’s future,” Edwards said.


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO