There is a great deal of discussion lately about whether Congress' inability to decide on a budget will soon lead to the shutdown of the federal government. At this point, the odds are the shutdown will happen, with April 8 being the date many government operations will essentially grind to a halt.
Just the fact the two political parties are at this point again -- the last time there was a shutdown was in 1995-96 -- shows two things: first, how broken our political system has become; and second, how little the needs of the American people are taken into account by those calling the shots in Congress.
They are our elected representatives, but most of them appear more interested in representing narrow political or ideological interests than in watching out for the interests of the citizens who voted for them. And the two sides seemingly can't or won't agree on anything these days.
Some in Congress want a shutdown, because to them, politics is no longer about the art of compromises but about being ideologically pure. These days, even our national budget seems to spark an "all or nothing, good versus evil" type of warfare, with those willing to compromise vilified by hyper-partisans on one side or the other.
So if the budget negotiators cannot agree, there will be impacts, and there will be secondary impacts. Our national economy is skating on very thin ice these days, although there are a number of positive signs. If this shutdown goes forward, the fledgling revival could be stopped cold. How could that be good for any American?
Government operations considered "essential" would remain even in a shutdown. The essential ops include the military and all national security programs. The post office would still deliver the mail, and air traffic controllers and federal prisons would remain staffed.
Social Security checks will continue to be sent out, but there won't be any passports or visas being processed, and all national parks will be closed. So forget about visiting the Grand Canyon, for example.
And as for the impacts on job figures, look out. Remember, a shutdown won't affect only the federal employees who are furloughed. There will be trickle-down impacts on thousands of government contractors working with the federal government. State workers paid with federal dollars could also be out of luck -- and out of work. Any state jobs funded by the federal government could be axed, bringing more layoffs just at a time employment is starting to show a significant upturn.
Many states have been relying on federal dollars to handle budget shortfalls. A shutdown would certainly magnify those problems, state by state.
Absurdly, those responsible for hammering out a deal on the federal budget are themselves exempt from the direct impacts of a shutdown. As the law stands now, those in Congress, as well as the president, will continue to get their paychecks even if the government is not operating.
With a shutdown looming, there is plenty to get angry about with our Congress. But all we can do is wait for the 2012 elections and once again "throw the bums out."
Trouble is, the new bums always seem to be a lot like the old bums. And the shutdown clock is still ticking.