Congress flies blind dur­ing shut­down

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

One ca­su­alty of the gov­ern­ment shut­down is that key agen­cies no longer are pro­duc­ing ex­actly the kind of bud­get in­for­ma­tion on deficits, spend­ing and the econ­omy that could help in­form Congress as it de­bates just those is­sues.

In­deed, it’s im­pos­si­ble to even know whether a gov­ern­ment shut­down will end up sav­ing or cost­ing money, with the score­keep­ers off duty and too many un­cer­tain­ties about how it will play out.

At least three ma­jor re­ports al­ready have been scut­tled by the shut­down: Last week, the La­bor Depart­ment can­celed re­lease of the Septem­ber jobs re­port, and the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice and the Trea­sury Depart­ment said they won’t be com­plet­ing their monthly bud­get re­views, which means the gov­ern­ment doesn’t know the fi­nal deficit for fis­cal year 2013, which ended a week ago.

“Be­cause a lapse in ap­pro­pri­ated funds has caused CBO to largely shut down its op­er­a­tions, the Monthly Bud­get Re­view will not be pub­lished to­day or dur­ing the du­ra­tion of the gov­ern­ment shut­down,” the agency said.

The shut­down also will de­lay another CBO re­port promised this

“The irony of this whole thing is we just shut down our means to have those

bud­get op­tions to avoid the shut­down.”

month, ac­cord­ing to the Com­mit­tee for a Re­spon­si­ble Fed­eral Bud­get, which stud­ies fis­cal is­sues. That re­port would have been very wel­come right now — it was sup­posed to lay out tax and spend­ing op­tions for re­duc­ing the deficit.

“The irony of this whole thing is we just shut down our means to have those bud­get op­tions to avoid the shut­down,” said Marc Gold­wein, se­nior pol­icy di­rec­tor at the com­mit­tee.

As the shut­down ex­tends into its sec­ond week, all sides are won­der­ing about the po­lit­i­cal and fis­cal im­pacts.

But there’s lit­tle cer­tainty about the lat­ter.

The 1995 and 1996 shut­downs cost the gov­ern­ment $1.4 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to a Clin­ton bud­get of­fice re­port at the time. Trans­lated to to­day’s dol­lars, that works out to $2.1 bil­lion. A ma­jor chunk of that was for back pay for em­ploy­ees who were fur­loughed.

Some an­a­lysts said the shut­down this time could end up sav­ing money be­cause pro­grams are be­ing halted and there aren’t as many em­ploy­ees to pay. Other an­a­lysts said it takes money to shut down and start up op­er­a­tions.

“That makes sense be­cause it is cost­ing money to moth­ball and open things, and shut­downs in­volve that,” said Dou­glas HoltzEakin, for­mer CBO di­rec­tor and now pres­i­dent of the con­ser­va­tive Amer­i­can Ac­tion Fo­rum — though he said given the size of the fed­eral bud­get, the cost of a shut­down is “not a lot of money.”

The longer the shut­down con­tin­ues, the more re­ports are likely to be de­layed.

The prob­lem for fed­eral agen­cies is that the num­ber crunch­ers have been fur­loughed as part of the 800,000 fed­eral em­ploy­ees whose jobs weren’t deemed es­sen­tial to pro­tect­ing life or prop­erty.

At the CBO, only about 10 per­cent of agency em­ploy­ees are on the job. Those are an­a­lysts who are deal­ing with bills that are ac­tively un­der con­sid­er­a­tion in Congress — which in the past week has meant in­di­vid­ual spend­ing bills the House has passed to try to re­open some parts of gov­ern­ment.

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