The U.S. government has begun a partial shutdown for the first time in 17 years after Congress failed to break a partisan deadlock by a midnight deadline. Some 800,000 federal workers are to be furloughed, and more than a million others will be asked to work without pay. The shutdown was spearheaded by tea party Republicans who backed a House bill tying continued government funding to a one-year delay of the Affordable Care Act and the repeal of a tax to pay for it. In addition to the furloughs, the shutdown will halt dozens of services provided by government agencies. We discuss the impact with Mother Jones reporter Tim Murphy, whose latest article is “48 Ways a Government Shutdown Will Screw You Over.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
Amy Goodman: We’re on the road in Louisiana, broadcasting from New Orleans public television, WLAE. I’m Amy Goodman.
The U.S. government has begun a partial shutdown for the first time in 17 years after Congress failed to break a partisan deadlock by a midnight deadline. The Office of Management and Budget issued orders shortly before the midnight deadline saying that, quote, “agencies should now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations.” Some 800,000 federal workers are to be furloughed; more than a million others will be asked to work without pay.
The shutdown was spearheaded by tea party conservatives who backed a House bill tying continued government funding to a one-year delay of the Affordable Care Act and the repeal of a tax to pay for it. The Democratic-controlled Senate insisted on funding the government through November 15th without special conditions. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spoke just after midnight.
Sen. Harry Reid: Madam President, it is embarrassing that these people who are elected to represent the country are representing the tea party, the anarchists of the country, and a majority of the Republicans in the House are following every step of the way. This is an unnecessary blow to America, to the economy, middle class, everyone.
Amy Goodman: House Speaker John Boehner addressed reporters soon after the government shutdown began.
Speaker John Boehner: The American people are worried about their job. They’re worried about their incomes rising, because they’re all under pressure. The economy is not growing. Why isn’t it growing? One of the issues that’s standing in the way is Obamacare, the fact that nobody knows what the rules are, employers scared to death to hire new employees, cutting the hours of many of their current employees, and—and for what reason? This law is not ready for prime time.
Amy Goodman: The government shutdown comes as Republicans and Democrats face a nearing deadline to increase the nation’s borrowing limit or risk a default on U.S. debts. Republicans had previously threatened to tie their bid for an Obamacare repeal to the debt ceiling vote. Despite the government shutdown, a key initiative of Obamacare begins today. Individuals seeking health insurance under the new program can now enroll online through marketplaces.
Well, to talk more about the government shutdown, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Tim Murphy, a reporter at Mother Jones.
Tim, welcome to Democracy Now! Please explain what’s happened since 12:00 midnight Eastern time. What exactly is being shut down?
Tim Murphy: Well, the short answer is about 20 percent of the federal government, 800,000 federal workers, will show up to work today and be sent home, and that includes 400,000 civilian workers from the Department of the Defense. That’s the department that probably gets the most cuts from this.
The longer answer is, you know, pretty much various things that you use in your everyday life will no longer be open to you. People applying for mortgages will have trouble getting that from the federal government. People trying to fill out their taxes will no longer be able to call the IRS to ask basic questions. The Coast Guard is cutting back some of its navigation assistance. Auto—new automobile inspections will be curtailed. The EPA is closing 94 percent of its responsibilities for the foreseeable future. You know, there’s kind of this perception that the shutdown mostly just affects Washington, D.C., and it really does affect Washington, D.C., but it goes much broader than that.
Amy Goodman: Some Republicans are demanding their colleagues ditch the shutdown strategy. Republican Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania said, quote, “It’s time to govern. I don’t intend to support a fool’s errand at this point.” Republican Congressman Michael Grimm of New York said, “The circus created the past few days isn’t reflective of mainstream Republicans—it projects an image of not being reasonable. The vast majority of Republicans are pretty level-headed and are here to govern,” he said. And Republican Congressmember Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, right, the party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2012, said, quote, “We have to stay on the right side of public opinion … Shutting down the government puts us on the wrong side,” he said. Tim, can you talk about the division among the Republicans?
Tim Murphy: Yeah. Over the last couple of days, there’s been this emergence of a bloc of mostly Northeastern or Upper Midwestern Republicans who have pushed for—you know, to become kind of a moderating influence within the party. But what we saw last night is that they really are still in the minority, and they’re a very small minority. Congressman Peter King of New York, a Republican, you know, attempted to lead a small rebellion of his colleagues against John Boehner’s proposal to delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act by a year, and he got about 20 votes, and that died. So, you know, for the foreseeable future, they really are in the minority of the Republican Party, and what they consider to be mainstream is really anything but. It’s those conservative—most conservative members of the House, the people that Harry Reid called anarchists last night, who are driving public policy in the House of Representatives.
Amy Goodman: So, Tim, explain exactly who gets affected by—in this first phase of the shutdown and when the voting will, you know, reopen government.
Tim Murphy: Sure. And the deal with the shutdown is it essentially gets worse the longer it goes on. And in 1995 and 1996 it went on for 28 days and ended up costing the U.S., I think, about $2 billion in economic losses, just because people don’t have money and they’re not spending it. So you have the 800,000 workers who will be furloughed, and they’ll be furloughed without pay. And when the shutdown eventually ends, they’ll get that pay. But in the meantime, you know, they’re trying to make ends meet.
The government did pass an emergency measure to continue paying members of the armed services last night, so they’ll still work and they’ll still get their pay. But families whose, you know, loved ones die in Afghanistan will not get death benefits in that period. You know, civilian contractors will not, by and large, be showing up to work. The EPA will shut down almost all of its services. The National Zoo will close. Even the panda cam that lets you watch, you know, the pandas on a live stream 24 hours a day will shut down. NASA, I think, is furloughing about 97 percent of its staff.
You know, people who depend on the federal government for funding for WIC food assistance will not get that. It’s up to their state whether they’ll get that going forward. Some states have obligations to do that; some states could probably care less. Heating assistance as the weather gets colder is something that is now up in the air. You know, there’s just kind of this wide range of government programs. Head Start, which is a program that has already been kind of really hammered by the sequestration cuts over the last seven months, is going to get further cuts over the next couple of weeks if the shutdown persists, as grants are now put on hold. So, you know, whether you have kids, whether you’re a college student relying on federal student loans or Pell Grants, whether you’re a senior citizen, whether you’re living in a cold region without heat, this shutdown will affect you.
Amy Goodman: During MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Monday, Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin suggested Democrats jammed through the Affordable Care Act on a partisan basis.
Sen. Ron Johnson: And the reason we’re at this point today is because the Democrats jammed through, on a 100 percent partisan basis, a huge reform. They didn’t do the work of trying to get a bipartisan consensus on how to do healthcare reform. Then, of course, Harry Reid hasn’t—
Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel: Excuse me, Senator. That’s not true.
Sen. Ron Johnson: But listen, listen. Come on, Dr. Emanuel, please.
Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel: We worked hard with Republicans.
Sen. Ron Johnson: And then, of course, Harry Reid—Harry Reid hasn’t passed an appropriation bill in more than—in over two years, and so now he’s reading the polls, and rather than keeping this in session, they’re going to swat this thing away. Let’s face it: They’re going to swat it away. We should have swatted this bill away. Harry Reid should have taken a vote. As soon as the House passed this, we actually gave ourselves time so we could avert a shutdown. I don’t want a shutdown.
Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel: Senator—
Sen. Ron Johnson: I’ve been working with the White House trying to work on this, these enormous financial challenges we have in this nation. But, you know, let’s face it: It’s the root cause of problem is that this is an incredibly partisan, very divisive bill, and we’re dealing with that right now, and it’s a real shame.
Amy Goodman: Tim Murphy, if you could respond?
Tim Murphy: Sure. Well, you know, the very brief part is that Democrats have been running on making healthcare affordable and available to everyone for most of the last four decades. They won elections, and then they passed it on a party-line vote. The longer answer is that this really did reflect the bipartisan consensus at the time. The Affordable Care Act gets its idea for the individual mandate originally from the Conservative Heritage Institute. And prior to the Affordable Care Act, the only place where this has actually been implemented was under Republican Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. You know, this was not really the solution that, you know, real liberals wanted. You know, they wanted a single-payer system or something like that. And instead, they spent about a year deliberating in the Senate with a bipartisan group of senators before they finally came up with what we have now as Obamacare. It is essentially a bipartisan creation that passed on a party-line vote. But since then, you know, Republicans have made this kind of the staple of their platform, and they view it as the key to electoral success.
Amy Goodman: Tim, you have a long list of what’s going to go down today, what are some of the government services that won’t be provided. Just share some of those with us.
Tim Murphy: Sure, and I’ve touched on a few, but, you know, for instance, the National Park Service is closing 401 of its sites, so that obviously applies to things like, you know, sightseeing and hiking. It also applies to the—you know, the retirees and folks like that who essentially live at National Park Service, National Forest Service campsites. They have 48 hours now to relocate. You know, the U.S. Geological Survey is canceling all of its long-term scientific research. The same goes for agencies like NOAA and the Environmental Protection Agency, which will no longer be able to regulate things like pesticides, which I think is something a lot of people care about. You know, we’ve touched on the 400,000 Department of Defense civilian employees.
And there are even—you know, there are even things that folks on the left side of the spectrum might be OK with and conservatives would be really upset with. So, for instance, the Bureau of Land Management is no longer going to be giving out permits for oil and gas leases or new oil and gas exploration. The ARPA-E, which is this Department of Energy Advanced Research Project program, they do things like squirtable batteries and deriving energy from algae and stuff like that. They’re shutting down entirely. And as are—you know, and the Bureau of Land Management is not going to be giving out permits for renewable energy, either.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission runs out of its funding stream in one week, so they can continue functioning as normal this week, but then they lay off, I think, all but about 20 people in their agency next week, and that could mean a reduction in inspections. We’re going to see a reduction in inspections of automobiles, a reduction of inspections in beef and grain. So a lot of the stuff we eat is no longer going to have that second look from federal inspectors. The FDA is going to slow down its research on drugs. And then this one, I think, especially as flu season gets going, the Center for Disease Control says it’s no longer going to be able to properly monitor outbreaks, both at home and overseas, and it’s not going to be properly—able to properly implement its flu season vaccination program.
Amy Goodman: And the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency would furlough more than 92 percent of its employees next week, with much of the remaining staff handling negotiations—well, furlough them now.
Tim Murphy: Yeah, yeah. And, you know, the Department of Energy has kind of made a priority on, you know, kind of urgent nuclear cleanup at, you know, places like the Hanford site in Washington or something like that, but the broad scope of its activities are going to be drastically curtailed.
Amy Goodman: Gun permits won’t be given out?
Tim Murphy: And, you know, for the Environmental Protection Agency, their—I’m sorry?
Amy Goodman: Gun permits won’t be given out?
Tim Murphy: And gun permits won’t be given out. So, finally, yeah, a very backwards way of getting gun control, but in a situation that I don’t think anybody really wants.
Amy Goodman: Tim Murphy, what happens with the debt ceiling debate next?
Tim Murphy: Yeah, and that’s the thing. As bad as the shutdown is—and it’s pretty bad, and it’s affecting all of these people—a debt ceiling would be far more—a debt ceiling—a failure to raise the debt ceiling would be far more catastrophic. And that comes on October 15th. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said, at that point we will no longer be able to meet our nation’s obligations, and unless Congress can raise the debt ceiling, which has been a fairly routine thing over the last few decades, then we run the risk of default. And if we get into a default, then the U.S. dollar runs the risk of no longer being the global currency, and, you know, we run the risk of plunging into a second recession and triggering kind of a whole new global economic crisis.
Amy Goodman: Tim Murphy, I want to thank you for being with us. Tim Murphy is with Mother Jones magazine, and we’ll link to your piece at democracynow.org.
This is Democracy Now! We’re in New Orleans, and we’re going to talk about what’s happening here. The worst oil spill in history two years ago has gone to court. Stay with us.