MARTY RUSSELL: When talking cuts, be careful what you wish

By Marty Russell

You say you want a revolution? Really? Are you prepared to pay for it? Revolution seems to be the new Cabbage Patch doll these days. Everybody wants one. Whether it’s Middle Easterners fed up with decades of dictators or Midwesterners fed up with government messing with their collective bargaining rights as public employees, everyone seems to want government off their backs and House Republicans seem poised to give it to them with a government shutdown.
Ah, how quickly we forget. Remember the last Republican Revolution when Newt Gingrich and Republicans retook the House with their Contract for America promising to cut taxes and cut spending? Well, they got it half right. Taxes got cut but spending continued to increase, even after they forced the longest government shutdown in history at 21 days.
That shutdown occurred in late 1995, early 1996 when then-President Bill Clinton vetoed a Republican spending bill because he said it contained insufficient funds to cover things like health care and education. Some sources have suggested the spending cuts were the result of Clinton forcing Gingrich to ride in the back of Air Force One. Whatever the reason, it was the Republicans who suffered as a result and Clinton went on to win another term.
Now the GOP seems prepared to clash again, this time with President Obama, over spending cuts after Congress failed to pass any appropriations bills last year leaving the government to operate under a continuing resolution that expires March 4. Under the Antideficiency Act, the federal government can not operate without an appropriation.
So unless another continuing resolution is adopted, government will essentially shut down next month. Good riddance, right? Wrong. According to a September 2010 report by the Congressional Research Service, a government shutdown would result in the furloughs of “several hundred thousand” government employees, including those who process and pay new Social Security claims.
The report examined the effects of the 1995-96 shutdown and found the following examples of the effects:
– The Centers for Disease Control ceased surveillance on diseases.
– Work at 609 toxic waste clean-up sites also ceased and 2,400 Superfund workers were sent home.
– Work on 3,500 bankruptcy cases was halted.
– The hiring of 400 new border patrol agents stopped.
– Three-hundred sixty-eight National Park Service sites were closed resulting in the loss of seven million visitors and the accompanying tourism revenues to local communities.
– Between 20,000 and 30,000 applications for visas went unprocessed each day and 200,000 applications for passports went unprocessed resulting in millions of dollars in lost revenue for airlines.
– Employees of federal contractors were furloughed without pay.
While the government report doesn’t mention it, the biggest impact of the 1995-96 shutdown was on the GOP who voters, many of whom were unable to get the services and benefits they were used to, saw as too partisan and unyielding.
Still want a revolution?
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at marusse1@olemiss.edu.