Flooding in Louisiana has caused tens of millions of dollars in property damage and untold personal misery. But public response has been slow. Join us to talk about why we open our hearts and wallets for some disasters and not others.
The ripple effects of the partial federal government shutdown are being felt across the country. In response, Republicans have attempted to pass individual bills that would reopen a handful of popular departments and agencies. But Democrats have resisted, saying it is not a viable way to govern. Meanwhile, some federal employees are working without a paycheck. The National Institutes of Health continues to enroll critically ill patients, but at a dramatically reduced pace. Small businesses cannot get government-backed loans. And private companies near national parks see a dramatic drop in customers. Diane and her guests discuss the impact of a shuttered federal government on Americans.
- Maggie Hassan governor, New Hampshire.
- Brian Naylor Washington correspondent, NPR.
- Reid Wilson writer, The GovBeat Blog at The Washington Post.
- Dante Chinni columnist, The Wall Street Journal and director, American Communities Project at American University.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. As the federal government shutdown enters its second week, we'll spend this hour talking about how the standoff is affecting ordinary people across the country. Joining me, Dante Chinni of The Wall Street Journal and the American University, Reid Wilson of The Washington Post, and Brian Naylor of NPR.
MS. DIANE REHMI know many of you are feeling frustration, some perhaps even anger, but I'd like to hear about the direct impact on your life. Let's leave politics aside for one moment and talk about real life impact. Join us on 800-433-8850, send us your email to email@example.com, follow us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. Welcome, everybody.
MR. DANTE CHINNIThank you.
MR. REID WILSONThank you.
MR. BRIAN NAYLORThank you. Good to be here.
REHMBrian Naylor, good to have you here. First, give us an update on the state of negotiations or the lack thereof.
NAYLORYeah, I'd say to call them negotiations is a bit of a stretch. There have been some discussions, I guess. The president met yesterday with House Democrats, and today he's going to meet with a group. He invited the entire House Republican Conference, but House leaders decided that that would be a little too unwieldy and maybe a little bit of a control issue.
NAYLORThey decided that they would bring the leadership and the chairs of some of the key committees so that they'll be meeting with the White House, with the president. I'm not sure if they're negotiating or if they're just stating and restating what they've been stating and restating for the past several months.
NAYLORThere is talk at the Capitol of maybe some kind of a deal, that there might be some interest in extending the debt ceiling for six or eight weeks while talks continue on larger budget issues, but the government would remain closed. I don't know how acceptable that's going to be to the president, but that's kind of where things stand at the moment.
REHMBrian Naylor, he's Washington correspondent at NPR. And, Brian, I want to welcome you to the program for the first time.
NAYLORThank you very much. Yeah.
REHMDante Chinni, at this point, who is still on duty?
CHINNIWell, that's a pretty good question. There are the essential employees. There were, in theory, when this happened -- I don't know if you can get an exact count -- but about 800,000 people that were furloughed. And a big thing happened at the end of last weekend actually when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that civilian DOD employees, the vast majority of them, would be going back to work.
CHINNISo the number is actually -- that's a lot of people. I mean, a lot of the federal workforce outside of Washington, D.C. in particular are DOD employees, so that's changed it. I think you're still probably talking, though, about 400- to 500,000 people, at least, that are not working.
REHMAnd, Reid Wilson, as the shutdown drags on, you've got Republicans attempting to pass bills that deal sort of with the slice of government. Democrats are not having any of it.
WILSONDemocrats aren't having any of that. That's the sort of the piecemeal approach that Sen. Ted Cruz had advocated. President Obama, his office of Management and Budget, have issued veto threats every time the House has passed one of these. The Senate has not brought up any of these particular sort of small piecemeal bills.
WILSONThat may change today if the Senate feels pressured to bring up a bill to allow Washington, D.C. to spend the tax money that it brings in. Because of D.C.'s unique nature, it has to have congressional approval to spend that money. Mayor Vincent Gray, also a Democrat, confronted Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, at a press conference yesterday. That's the lead of The Washington Post today, a nice big photo of Vincent Gray giving the evil eye to Harry Reid.
REHMI saw the Mayor last night at an event for voting here in D.C. He and a council member were very much involved in conversation. Brian, what do you hear about federal employees? What do you hear from them? What do you hear about them?
NAYLORWell, there's a lot -- I think, as you said in the introduction, there's a lot of frustration, and there's some anger. A lot of them who are furloughed feel like, you know, they want to work. They actually believe that they are public servants, and they want to serve. And there are a lot of very personal financial concerns.
NAYLORI talked to a man who works for the IRS in Baltimore. He's got two kids in college, two daughters. He's paying their tuition, so he's concerned about that. I talked to a woman who works for Social Security in Kansas City. She is an essential employee. She's getting out the checks. She's helping determine who gets benefits, but she's not sure when she'll be paid. She's a single mom. She's got two kids, and so there's a lot of, you know, very personal concerns about people's making it from paycheck to paycheck.
REHMDante, are you hearing the same things?
CHINNIYeah. It's actually -- when you look at what's happening at the community level -- and, look, there are all the individual stories of people who are struggling because they're not getting paid, and they're not going to work. But the other thing you have is federal employment across the United States as a whole is only about 2.1 percent of all the jobs in the United States.
CHINNIThat's not counting military. That's civilian employment. But -- so it doesn't seem like very much unless you're one of the 2.1 percent obviously. But there are these places where the number of federal employees is much higher. You get up over 5 percent. There are about 100 counties where it's over 10 percent. And when you...
REHMFor example, where?
CHINNIOh, this is Christian County, Kentucky and Montgomery County, Tenn., I believe, and then you get out to, like, Leavenworth, Kan. A lot of these are around military bases. And the thing to keep in mind is those aren't just that people have been furloughed. There are a lot of contractors around those places that are also not being paid right now.
CHINNISo that's actually hitting those places. And what you're doing is you're essentially pulling money out of these communities, and it will have an effect. I mean, it's already having an effect. It's less money to spend at the grocery store. It's less money to spend at the café. This isn't just about the federal employees in these places. I mean, it's not just about the federal employees anywhere. But when you have a large number of federal employees, a high percentage, and, all of a sudden, they're not being paid, that will bleed out into the economies of these small places.
REHMAnd, Reid Wilson, you've got the federal park lands surrounded by individual shop owners who count on that traffic.
WILSONThere was a story in the Deseret News -- or maybe it was the Salt Lake Tribune -- this, today, one of the Utah papers, about the fact that some of the gateway towns into Zion National Parks, for example, are empty. There are not hotel guests. There are no restaurant patrons. There's simply nobody there. You know, last week, I think the shutdown was a story about Harry Reid and John Boehner and President Obama talking to each other through the media rather than, you know, actually sitting down and hammering out some kind of deal.
WILSONThis week, the news coverage in all these local papers around the country is much more local. It's about people getting $275 tickets for hiking in Red Rock Canyon Park outside of Las Vegas. It's about, you know, the counties in Southern Utah contemplating taking over the national parks and reopening them. You're seeing all these stories of individual impact.
WILSONI was struck by a Quinnipiac poll that came out today that said -- a lot of people said, well, the shutdown isn't affecting me. Fifty-eight percent of Virginians said that the shutdown had not impacted them. That means that 42 percent had been impacted by the federal shutdown. It is becoming widespread. That number will grow as the shutdown continues.
REHMBrian, you also had a story this morning of four servicemen coming back and their families not receiving the so-called death benefits and a private organization stepping up to pay them.
NAYLORYeah, it's quite extraordinary. I think a lot of members of Congress are embarrassed about that...
REHMI hope so.
NAYLOR...as well they should be, that the -- and I can't remember the name of this organization, but they have stepped...
REHMI think it was the Fisher Foundation.
NAYLORAnd I think that they have taken part in this whole process. But to have them actually step in and provide these casualty benefits, it should be embarrassing.
REHMAnd another personal donation for Head Start came this morning, Reid.
WILSONAnd there were a number of Head Start programs all over the country that had already run out of money. You know, a lot of the checks that the federal government writes cover the next month's funding, so there are a lot of these programs that are funded in October. But if we hit, say, Nov. 1, they would run out of money. A lot of those Head Start programs, though, were not.
WILSONThey had to get those checks in the first week of October. We got up to a situation in which 5,000 children were out of Head Start because their programs had shut down, and then another foundation stepped in and provided $10 million to keep those particular locations open. But, you know, the bottom line, individual foundations stepping in -- and these are seriously only stopgap measures, and they're going to ask for that money back at some point.
REHMBut I wonder whether this is something Republicans think is a good thing on the whole, that you've got private organizations stepping in? Why not let those government responsibilities go?
NAYLORWell, I think that is part of the Republican overall philosophy, that it should be up to private charities or churches, in some cases, to provide this. But the other thing that you've seen this past week is a kind of a -- one of my colleagues described it as an alternate universe that Republicans have been putting forward these kinds of piecemeal bills in the House floor, to fund WIC, to fund Head Start, to fund veterans benefits. And Democrats...
NAYLORSo that they can say that we want to -- see, we care about the government. We care about the people. It's usually the poorest of the poor who are affected by these cutbacks. And you have Democrats arguing against them because they don't want this piecemeal approach that -- they're saying that -- I think President Obama said, just because there's been a TV story about a program, it doesn't mean we should now fund it at the expense of the rest of the government.
REHMBrian Naylor, he's Washington correspondent for NPR. Short break here. When we come back, it's your turn. I want to hear from you. Call us, 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd welcome back. In this hour we're talking about how the shutdown -- partial shutdown in Washington has affected people across the country. Here's our first email from Philip. He says, "I'm a professor at the University of Maryland, been approached by two professionals working in the federal government looking into new career paths. Hard to imagine the impact on their morale and the possibility of losing such good people that may come from this situation." What are you hearing in terms of polling, Dante?
CHINNIWell, the poll numbers on this actually -- the Wall Street Journal NBC has a new poll that will -- we cannot talk about yet. But I've seen it, and it reinforced some of these numbers. Pew had a poll last week that looked at whether the shutdown is inconveniencing you personally -- what it's doing to you personally. And 28 percent of the people in that poll said they were personally inconvenienced in some way.
CHINNIYou know, that's actually a fairly significant number. That's across the entire country. It's about 30 percent. But most significant is, compared to 1995, 1995, that same question, only 16 percent of the American people said they had been inconvenienced in any way. That's a pretty big jump. And one of the things that a lot of people don't know is that in 1995 when we had those shutdowns, five of the 13 appropriation bills had actually been passed.
CHINNISo it wasn't -- the shutdown was a little different. Not as many things were shut down. This time around more things are shut down, and the pain is (unintelligible) pain or the inconvenience -- however you want to phrase it -- is higher. And it's being felt in a much broader sense.
WILSONThe interesting part of this is it's not only being felt in areas where there are a lot of federal workers, but also in areas where there are a lot of state workers, state capitols, major cities. A lot of the public employees in those areas are actually funded by the federal government. There are parts -- you know, whether it's 20 percent of their salary or their entire salary, a lot of the money that the federal government gives to the states goes through grants that end up employing people.
WILSONAnd you can go across the country, and some of the stories that we've talked about, about being approached by federal employees who want to find new work, I mean, the parks that are closed. There are 2,000 shelters that are funded by the Violence Against Women Act that will run out of money. I mean, these sort of anecdotal stories about how the shutdown is impacting real people fans out across the country.
WILSONAnd, by the way, it reinforces some of the other jobs that the federal government does that aren't getting done now. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration has to approve any private plane that is sold to an airline or a person, anybody who wants to buy a plane. You can't buy a private plane right now. So I suppose that doesn't quite impact us here, but, you know, for some, yeah.
REHMWell, but it takes me to a question I've wanted to ask. Who is being affected generally, high income, middle income, low income? Is there a breakdown here, Brian?
NAYLORYeah, I don't know the exact numbers, but I'd say it's pretty much across the board. We talked about programs like Head Start and WIC, which affect a lot of low-income people. Maybe not planes, but the real estate industry is concerned that it's going to affect home sales because, you know, all of the paperwork that you have to complete when you close on a house, a lot of that is federally mandated forms and tax forms and FHA forms. And a lot of those things are not going to be processed. And so the middle income folks trying to buy a home are affected as well.
CHINNIYeah, I'd say, you know, two things to really keep in mind here -- and one of them is an indirect affect -- which is when this happens consumer confidence takes a dive. And, again, you see this in the polling data in terms of where they think the economy's -- their future outlook for the economy gets dimmer -- people's future outlook for the economy. Poll numbers show this consistently. And what does that mean? That means everybody tightens up a little bit. And that affect is felt everywhere throughout the U.S. economy.
CHINNIWhen you ask people though by income bracket, will the U.S. economy be affected by the shutdown, the strongest -- the highest number, 60 percent again in the Pew poll was under 30K or less -- people with household incomes of 30K or less. And I do think that it is felt everywhere, but it's the people at the lower end because it's not just the people who have the jobs end. But it is Head Start. It's the people who rely more on the government that do end up taking a hit.
WILSONOne thing we've heard about a lot in the last few years as President Obama and the Republicans have debated everything from healthcare to Dodd Frank to all these major programs is uncertainty, uncertainty in the business community and sort of uncertainty holding back the ability of the economy to grow.
WILSONThis is a new layer of uncertainty. I was talking to a couple of state budget officials over the weekend, and they were saying that, you know, this is now -- the federal government's shutdown, the sort of stalemate at the federal level, is causing states and cities and counties to sort of factor in new levels of uncertainty. In Maryland and Virginia, they have established special funds that can pay for some of the furloughed workers in the event that they are -- that the federal government shuts down.
REHMYou know, uncertainty is a fairly benign word. I wonder how much anger is building across the country. We hear from people who say, why don't they just get back to talking? Why don't they just get back to work? I wonder whether that uncertainty is beginning to approach anger, Brian.
NAYLORI think that it's bound to. I think there's a lot of maybe resignation in a sense that, you know, Washington is broken. And you hear that, you know, in every campaign season there are people who run against Washington. Washington doesn't work. There's gridlock. And I think that this just adds to that sense that, you know, the solution is not to be found in Washington. We were talking -- Reid was talking about the -- you know, the state and local governments are becoming more involved. And solutions are not being -- people are not looking to Washington for solutions.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones, 800-433-8850, first to Kathy in Dartmouth, Mass. You're on the air.
KATHYHi, Diane. I'm calling -- both my sons, one's in the military and one works for customs and border patrol. And my son puts on -- on the border puts on a bulletproof vest every day and goes to work and is not being paid.
KATHYHe has a wife who's pregnant and a 2-year-old child. They're told that they don't know what paycheck they're going to get. They don't know how much it's going to be. He's already planning on having eight days of pay for three weeks. Then they told them they're going to be getting a bill for their health insurance because they have to pay their part of that premium.
KATHYAnd they're told that all they're going to get is a letter to send to their creditors. This is going to have such impact on their ability to borrow, their ability to buy a home. You know, it's craziness. And my son's expected to risk his life every day for what, you know? I mean, there's no respect for him anymore.
REHMWhat do you think?
NAYLOROne of the powerful comments that I heard last week after the shooting at the U.S. Capitol building was from a capitol policeman who said that, boy, he sure would've liked to have been paid for that day that he was protecting the members of Congress.
REHMAnd yet those members of Congress stood up and gave them a round of applause. They didn't give him a check.
NAYLORGave them applause, but not a paycheck. And you can find examples of that all over the country. I mean, can you imagine being on the border or in a combat zone and not being paid? I mean, that's -- this is why, you know, the one sort of item that might make it through is the pay for federal workers, sort of the back pay, guaranteeing that they will be paid for their work. But, you know, there...
REHMI hope so.
NAYLOR...there are so many...
CHINNIAt some time, you know.
REHMAt some time, yeah, exactly.
NAYLOR...there are so many workers who are out of work. I mean, just in Washington, D.C. alone, 26,000 people filed for unemployment last week.
REHMAll right. And, Kathy, I wish you luck. I wish us all luck. Thanks for calling. Let's go now to Bloomington, Ind. Hi there, Paul. You're on the air.
PAULHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
PAULI am a student getting my PhD in physics here in Bloomington. And we have a facility where we can do research, and it's state funded. So we're not affected directly at the facility, but we need to travel to national facilities to conduct research at times. And there are two consequences we're seeing from this federal shutdown. And the first is that these national labs where we need to go to do research are closing down, so we can't conduct research.
PAULAnd the second problem is that any researchers who would like to come to our facility to conduct research because their facility is closing, the federal government will not provide them with money for travel. So experiments have practically come to a standstill. And you can't get publications out, and the scientific community will suffer from this if this goes on too long.
REHMYou bet. Dante.
CHINNIThe reach of the shutdown, I think people don't -- it's hard because, as the shutdown goes on, you'll see it more and more because you don't interact with government every day. But at some point you do, and then it opens your eyes. The way I -- it is a very minor concern, but the way I dealt with the shutdown or realized the shutdown was going on last week was I sat down to do my weekly piece for the Wall Street Journal, went to the census site and found the census site was closed, meaning that there was no access to any of the data the census had.
CHINNIAnd they had to shut it down because the idea was, if there anything incorrect, it has to be able to be fixed. If anybody hacks the site, somebody has to be there to fix it. It's just amazing that when you really -- when you deal with -- when you go through your day-to-day life, eventually you're going to hit a point where you're like, oh my god, I never thought of that before.
REHMExactly. And to Susan in Alexandria, Va., you're on the air.
SUSANHi. Thank you for taking my call.
SUSANI'm a 21-year federal worker, both military and federal, have worked for my current agency, Transportation Security Agency, for the past seven years. And due to health reasons -- I'm also a one-year breast cancer survivor -- all of my money has been tied up in medical bills. This shutdown has had us down to being able to pay my October rent, buy medication, food and electricity.
SUSANAfter that, I'm getting half a paycheck this upcoming Friday, which all of my medical -- all my health insurance, all of my deductions will be taken out like it's a full paycheck. So that's going to leave me with almost nothing. And I don't -- I know I can't pay November's rent. And thank God my husband gets Social Security. I mean, and that, if we go past the 17th, he may not be getting that.
REHMWhat do you think, Brian? Are we going to go past the 17th?
NAYLORYou know, my original bet was that they would have this resolved by the time the next calamity, the debt crisis was due. But now I'm not so sure about that. I think maybe they will. There's more pressure to settle with the -- to deal with the debt ceiling than the government shutdown. I just don't think -- a lot of these members don't feel this kind of pressure, or they don't feel like this is -- that the cause is greater than these individual stories.
WILSONOne thing I think we saw last week and this week is sort of the evolution of the Republican Party, in terms of who pulls the strings, who has the influence with members of Congress themselves. There was a time when the Chamber of Commerce and business groups from around the country and on Wall Street could effectively tell Republicans, well, you know, pass this measure, keep the government open because of the uncertainty that it would cause otherwise.
WILSONNowadays, the business interests just don't have any sort of influence -- the same level of influence. Meanwhile, these conservative groups that see government as a perpetual evil are the ones who are really driving the Republican Conference.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Joining us now by phone is Gov. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire. Thanks for joining us.
GOV. MAGGIE HASSANWell, thank you for having me, Diane. It's a pleasure to be on.
REHMThank you. Governor, your reaction to the federal shutdown, how is it affecting people in your state?
HASSANWell, every day the negative impacts of this federal shutdown grows on my state. Right now, for instance, while our National Guard men and women have been recalled, we are facing in the Guard budget shortfalls that make it difficult for them to pay for basic utilities and supplies.
HASSANWe have small businesses in New Hampshire who get millions and millions of dollars of loans guaranteed every month that can't get their loans right now because of the closure of the Small Business Administration. So the impact grows and will continue to. And I continue to urge members of Congress to pass a clean continuing resolution and reopen the entire government.
REHMNow, is New Hampshire itself stepping in to address some of these issues?
HASSANWell, wherever we can, we are certainly trying to do that. So where we can, for instance, pay for some things out of our own budget dollars with the hope that the federal government will reimburse us when it reopens, we are trying to do that. But, for instance, we have an issue right now.
HASSANThe White Mountain National Forest, which is federally owned, has shut private campgrounds that it contracts with right as we're going into Columbus Day Weekend, one of our biggest tourist weekends of the year, and something that people from around the world come to enjoy New Hampshire because our foliage is so beautiful.
HASSANAnd while we are working to make sure our state parks are not only open but welcoming some of the people who were planning to stay in these campgrounds on federal property, I can't influence what happens on federal property other than to urge Congress to pass a clean continuing resolution that would reopen the entire government so people could enjoy the White Mountain National Forest, which is just really a treasure.
REHMAnd, of course, Gov. Hassan, as the state does step in to try to alleviate some of the financial issues, are you concerned that that could, in fact, set some precedent?
HASSANWell, certainly. And I think what really -- you know, the bigger issue here for me, as somebody who governs the state, has to manage the budget, has to balance the budget, is that, you know, I'm in a state where we have divided government. We have a Republican State Senate, a Democratic State House. There are 400 House members in New Hampshire for 1.3 million people, 24 senators, and yet we came together with a bipartisan budget in June.
HASSANWe did it on time. It's a balanced, fiscally-responsible budget. It passed unanimously in our Republican-led Senate and almost unanimously in our Democratic-led House. And the people of our state and the people throughout the country really are used to solving problems together. They do it in their homes and their businesses and in their communities. We do it here in New Hampshire. And the federal government, especially the Congress, needs to learn how to do this again, work with each other. Arguing happens and is OK, but it's what you do after the argument is done that matters.
HASSANAnd so I'm really just trying to urge folks to come together in Washington and pass a clean resolution -- a continuing resolution, and, you know, deal with the things that they disagree about in the proper process.
REHMAnd finally, very briefly, I wonder if you've heard from any of your Republican counterparts across the country?
HASSANI think it's fair to say that all of the governors that I talk to in both political parties are very clear that this is not the way to run a government. And, you know, one of the things I'm also hearing from New Hampshire citizens and businesses is that, just as we're recovering economically, this kind of uncertainty really hurts our business confidence, our consumer confidence. And it's really damaging the economy that way, too.
REHMGov. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, thank you so much for joining us.
HASSANThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd when we come back, more of your calls, your comments. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMWelcome back as we continue our discussion on how ordinary people across the country are feeling the partial shutdown in Washington. Here in the studio: Brian Naylor or NPR, Reid Wilson of The Washington Post, Dante Chinni of The Wall Street Journal and the American University. Here's an email from Blake who says, "The shutdown has such far-reaching effects it's gotten down to me. I repair and refinish furniture here in San Antonio. I had a job canceled because the lady did not know when the next paycheck was coming."
CHINNIThat is down in one of those military communities, and this is the bleed out effect from this. Again, it's, like, I just think people -- it's not just about the people being laid off. It's the people -- those people spend money with when they go to the store and when they buy furniture, when they do everything. People forget that.
NAYLORAnd the contractors as well.
NAYLORYou know, in this area and in a lot of different places that rely on government employees -- government contracts, they're not getting paid. They're having to furlough their workers, and so it's -- it's a real ripple effect. The people who -- you mentioned, you know, the pizza parlor owners and the coffee shop owners in places next to national parks. The people who clean the office buildings under contract are not -- are not getting paid, and so it's -- it's really -- it's really quite widespread.
REHMAll right. Let's take a caller. Jeff in Cincinnati, Ohio, you're on the air.
JEFFThank you for taking my call.
JEFFAnd I'd like to ask your guest a question. And it's reported that the partial shutdown is costing the government $300 million a day, and they've laid off 800,000. But we have 800,000 fewer people on the payroll and fewer benefits being paid out. So when you have -- and the government's not a profit center. So how do you have 800,000 people off the payroll, not paying a lot of benefits and still lose $300 million a day?
WILSONWell, it's because the government isn't taking in the money that it was supposed to take in. It's not able to collect the -- some of the money that it could through taxes or fees. Another part of that is the government -- the government pays those workers who then pay taxes to the government. And that is -- that's where a lot of the state money is missing.
WILSONYou know, Maryland estimates that they're missing out on $5 million a day in tax revenue alone -- you know, tax and fee revenue. So across the country it's not just the fact that the government isn't taking in money, but it's also not paying out the money which then it gets some of it back, as convoluted as that sounds.
NAYLORAfter the '95, '96 shutdown, the Office of Management and Budget or the CBR, I forget which, estimated a $1.4 billion cost of that shutdown which lasted for a total of 26 days. That's about $2 billion in 2013 dollars, and it's likely that this time, with a much more widespread shutdown, it's going to be far higher.
REHMI hope that answers your question. Let's go to Naples, Texas. Hi there, Kathleen.
KATHLEENGood morning. My question is we know how this shutdown is affecting the little people. How is our Congress being affected, our congressional leaders from the President down to the most junior congressmen, are they losing -- is someone not paying their health benefit? Have they lost their per diem? Have they lost their travel allowances? Have they lost their pages in the offices?
KATHLEENHave they lost electricity?
WILSONWell, I hate to be flip about it, but one thing that they have lost is clean towels in the House and Senate gymnasiums.
WILSONBut there are some members of Congress -- and I don't actually completely understand this part of it. But there are some members of Congress who have furloughed a large percentage of their staff, who are sending, you know, constituent calls to voicemail. And there are others who have brought back their entire staff. I saw, over the weekend, Mark Sanford, the congressman from South Carolina, announce that he would bring back his furloughed staff. So some of them are furloughing staff, others are not, but, yes, they're all getting paid.
CHINNIThere was one congresswoman, and I -- and Reid may know this better than I. I don't know where she was from, but they asked her if she was going to forego being paid during the shutdown because she wasn't doing her job. And her response was, I can't do that. I've got a kid in college that's -- you know, like, I need this money to -- I don't remember who it...
WILSONHundred and seventy-four thousand dollar a year paycheck.
CHINNIRight, it's, like, I can't not take that money. It's, like, exactly, you can't not take it.
REHMWhoa. And to Brian in Fishers, Ind. You're on the air.
BRIANYeah, I was just wondering, after many attempts to go to committee to discuss this budget over the last few months, why -- why did -- why was it always denied? Why didn't they try to hash this out before hitting the wall?
NAYLORWell, that's a good question. There were attempts. As you said, the Democrats wanted to have a conference committee of budget committee members and appropriations committee members to sit out and work out their differences, but the Republicans said, no. This isn't really the way they wanted to do this. They were, I think, hoping maybe for a grand bargain in the scheme of things or maybe were somewhat concerned that they would lose some of their political leverage by agreeing to compromise on some of these issues.
REHMAnd didn't Republicans and Democrats each have a different idea of what a grand bargain might be?
NAYLORWell, sure. And that's always the case, too, but what's interesting in this -- and it's kind of gotten lost in the shuffle is that, you know, we have the sequester going on, and the Democrats are pretty much willing to say, you know, we will take the continued funding at the sequester levels in order to reopen the government.
REHMAnd that was some $70 billion that the White House has conceded to.
WILSONOne of the things Dante and I were joking about off the air is there's a -- this idea of passing the piecemeal bills, the small bills. There used to be a name for that. We used to call it appropriating. Dante brought up earlier this hour that in the last shutdown in '95 and '96, you know, what was it, five out of the 13 appropriation bills had passed.
CHINNIFive of the 13, yeah.
WILSONNone have passed this year. There are -- and, by the way, we haven't passed all 13 since, gosh, I don't know, early 2000s? I mean, it's been a very long time that, you know, sort of, what we -- what we call regular order on Capitol Hill has broken down.
REHMAnd to Paige in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. Hi, you're on the air.
PAIGEGood morning. I had a question about the folks that have been laid off and sent home. Are they going to get back pay when this is all over? And, secondly, the contractors that are contracted to the government, are they going to turn around and have lawsuits for breach of contract on all the things that got stopped in midway? And I'll take my answer off the air.
REHMOK, thanks for calling.
CHINNIThe back pay question is still not completely decided. They passed it very quickly through the House, but got to the Senate, and it's stalled at the moment. The question about contractors, that's a -- that's an excellent question. I don't -- I don't know. There is also the question of, I mean, look, a government contract's a good contract.
CHINNISo I guess you don't say no to it, but there is also the question in the future of do you -- if this becomes -- if this becomes standard operating procedure increasingly in Washington, you know, do you -- what happens to contracts? Do you want to work for the government? Do you get the same level of people?
NAYLORYeah, that's interesting. I mean, you're right. The Senate initially said it would take up the back pay bill, and then they decided that it was premature. I don't think there's any doubt that they will make these employees whole. In terms of the government contractors, you know, a lot of these companies, this is what they do. They contract with the government, and so if they decide that this isn't the way to do business, then they're going to have to come up with a new business plan.
NAYLORFor a lot of them, I don't think they have much choice, but it's -- it is kind of a tenuous position for them -- for many of them to be in.
REHMHere's an email from Karen. She operates a small pharmacy in rural Oklahoma. She says, "I am the only pharmacy in town. I received a notice from TRICARE, the federally funded prescription program for military personnel and their families. Payment for prescriptions already dispensed since Sept. 3 are being pended. The last thing I want to do is turn prescriptions away, but I can scarcely afford to fill these without guarantee of timely payment." Wow.
CHINNIYeah. I'd be curious. She says she's from rural Oklahoma, right?
REHMWell, I've got the town.
REHMBut since she's the only one there, I'd rather not reveal her identity.
REHMBut, you know, it's terrible.
WILSONWell, one thing I think this brings up is this is coming on the heels of a, you know, years-long recession in which everybody's savings had already been depleted beyond what they could afford, and our, you know, credit card debts are through the roof. And this is, like, exactly the wrong -- if you could pick a time for a federal government shutdown, this is not the time you would pick. You'd allow people years to rebuild the savings that have already been depleted.
REHMAnd here's an email from Elizabeth who says, "My husband is a NASA contractor. NASA is 97 percent furloughed. His contract is funded, so he is paid through today. But even when federal employees come back, it will take several days before the contract can be refunded and he can be paid again. He will not get back pay like federal employees. And we have bills and mortgages just as they do."
WILSONOne of the things that -- actually Brian was on a panel with other NPR correspondents a few days ago that I was listening, and I thought one of the points you all made was the shutting down and reopening of the government costs huge amounts of money as well. And it takes a long time. It takes time for that NASA contract to be funded. It takes time for TRICARE to send out remits for their prescriptions. I mean, all of this -- the federal government is huge, and it costs billions to -- just simply to turn on the lights every day.
REHMAnd here's another email from Herb. He says, "I'm a dedicated and qualified, yet unemployed, school teacher. I was offered a fantastic position today only to find out I cannot be processed or hired due to the shutdown. It seems Miami Dade County cannot access the federal background screening system. Consequently, a hiring freeze is in effect." OK, you guys, tell me this. Members of Congress have to be hearing this stuff from their own constituents. Are they not the least moved in their hearts by what they're hearing?
NAYLORYou know, I think -- I think many of them -- most of them are, but then the question is, well, what do you do about it? And that's when -- that's when we start hearing, you know, the proverbial blame game.
NAYLORYou know, from the Republicans...
REHMThat's all I hear.
NAYLOR...it's all, you know, the Senate has to take up our budget, or the President has to agree to. You know, it's not clear what they want the President to agree right now, but, you know, it gets tossed back and forth and kind of gets -- and what gets lost then is the stories of these people.
WILSONThis is exposing the evolution of Congress of sort of the power centers in Washington, D.C. There was a time under House Speaker Newt Gingrich or Nancy Pelosi or -- there was an earlier time when there were sticks and carrots that the leadership could use to corral their members. That is no longer the case.
WILSONThere are no more earmarks. The notion that you can pull a member of Congress off of one of their preferred committees, as happened earlier this year, doesn't really work in the Republican side because then those members become pariahs and the whole system has shifted. There needs to be some kind of reset pressed.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
CHINNII think the other thing to keep in mind about what's happened in Congress is -- because I was looking at this just last week. When you talk about the divides within Congress right now there is -- there is really a small group within the Republican Party that's kind of pushing it to take the positions that it's taken on a lot of these things. And for those members, I don't know if there are a lot of repercussions back in their districts. I mean, what they get out of this is the ability to stand up to the President.
CHINNIThere is a lot of, you know, genuine dislike, almost hatred, of President Obama in some of these places. And they go back, and their response is, I stood up to him. I stood up to him. Everybody keeps talking about what's the end game for this. A lot of these congressmen don't really need an end game. What they need to do is say, if eventually the House gives in and passes a clean CR, they can still go back to their constituents and say, I stood up to the president. You know, they blew it, but I stood up to the president.
CHINNIAnd that's -- when you look at the map of Congress, the blue and red breakdown of what the districts look like in 1992 and what it looks like now, it's just completely different. There was blue and red scattered around the country much more in 1992 than now, in 2001 even, I was just thinking about, just looking at it last week. You know, in 2001 Connecticut was evenly -- its congressional delegation was evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Arkansas, its delegation was evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. That's gone now. That's gone.
NAYLORAnd these members don't have to worry about getting reelected...
NAYLOR...in a general election because they're all in these safe districts. Their -- we've heard this before. Their biggest concern is a primary challenge, especially among Republicans. And they're worried about protecting their rights, and their right is the people who say stand up to the government -- stand up to the president.
REHMWell, that's my question, Brian. Do you think that this shutdown, despite those kinds of so-called safe districts, could change the outlook of the 2014 election?
NAYLORIt's hard to see how it's going to impact the House races because, again, there are -- as Dante said, there are so many that are -- that are deep red, and there are so many that are deep blue that it's not likely -- you know, there have been polls that show more people blame Republicans. And Congress's generally is at all-time lows, but when it comes down to, you know, a year from now, a year from November, I just don't see that there's going to be a huge turnover, that this is going to have that big of an impact.
WILSONAnd not only are there -- the thing that struck me was there are new surveys that show the Republican Party is more unpopular than it's ever been. You know, the Democrats aren't much better.
CHINNIThat's true, right.
WILSONPeople don't see anybody in Washington, D.C. working, and -- to Dante and Brian's point -- not only are there more Republican districts and more Democratic districts, but what that means is there are fewer swing districts.
WILSONThere are fewer districts in the middle in which this can be fought. I'm pretty pessimistic that this -- this shutdown is going to change anything in terms of the way our politics operate. There may be a small number of members of Congress who feel a backlash back at home, but the fact is that there simply aren't that many who represent swing districts who have to worry about that general election.
REHMHow pessimistic are you, very briefly, about hitting that Oct. 17 deadline?
WILSONI have been pretty -- pretty bearish on this whole prospect. I thought we were going to shut down. I'm -- I think the only way to get out of breaking through the debt ceiling is a short-term extension that really would only put us in the same situation six weeks down the road.
CHINNIIn the end, I mean, it's -- I hate -- just because it's guesswork really at this point.
CHINNIIt really is. But if I'm reading the tea leaves, my sense is that we won't cross the threshold, and they'll pull back at the last second.
NAYLORYeah, that's my guess as well. They'll avoid the debt ceiling, but they may keep the government closed for another couple weeks.
REHMBrian Naylor of NPR, Reid Wilson of The Washington Post, Dante Chinni of The Wall Street Journal and director of the American Communities Project at American University, thanks to all of you.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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