WASHINGTON, October 2, 2013 — Most Americans don’t work for the federal government and don’t receive public entitlement money, so they might not take the government shutdown all that seriously. Most of the services we use day to day are provided commercially or by local and state government. Outside the beltway it will take a long time for the effects of the shutdown to reach us.
That just won’t do. It doesn’t serve the purposes of the Obama administration. So they need to go the extra mile to make sure that those of us who are not particularly dependent on government feel as much pain as they can send our way. In just the first day of the shutdown the lengths they have gone to spread the pain around range from the simply foolish to the truly absurd.
There are some obvious stupidities which amount to a kind of petty in-your-face statement about the shutdown, like putting up out of service notices on government websites even though there’s no fiscal reason to actually shut them down.
A bigger way to reach out to the people who would otherwise be able to ignore the shutdown is through the Department of the Interior’s administration of parks and public monuments, which gives the federal government a highly visible presence in every state. This is where we are seeing the most ridiculous of the efforts to bring the pain of the shutdown to the people.
The first example of this is the completely unnecessary shutdown of various monuments in D.C. This has received some press because of a group of World War II veterans who removed barricades so they could visit the World War II memorial just off the national mall. The memorial is an open air monument which requires no attendants or personnel except for the occasional security patrol. The cost to have park workers put out barricades was probably more than the cost to have a police car drive by a couple of times a day.
It costs nothing to keep the memorial open. It just sits there. The same is true of the other war memorials and the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. All are open air facilities. The only monument on the mall which has permanent staff is the Washington monument, and it is probably the only one which the shutdown should require closing.
In state after state they have closed down public parks and monuments, sometimes barricading open air facilities for no reason, but equally irrationally closing down museums and monuments which charge admission sufficient to cover their costs of maintenance and operation. The most prominent example of this is the recently reopened Statue of Liberty, which charges a hefty $20 admission. The website is shut down and admissions are closed during the shutdown, even though it makes millions of dollars in profit every year. Shutting the Statue of Liberty down costs the government money rather than saving it, as the shutdown is supposed to do.
Another example is my favorite place for tea and popovers, Jordan Pond House on Mt. Desert Island in Maine. Up until about 20 years ago, it was operated as a successful and profitable business. When the owners retired they gave it to the National Park Service to run and they added a very profitable gift shop and set it up as a licensed concession, making it a semi-private enterprise. Between the restaurant and gift shop, Jordan Pond House brings in millions in profit for the government. Yet despite the fact that it is privately operated and turns a profit the Park Service shut it down yesterday and for the duration of the shutdown, costing the government money rather than saving money.
Then there are all the rivers which come under federal jurisdiction nationwide. They’ve been shut down to fishing, not only by fly fishermen whose costs are covered by fishing licenses, but also for commercial fishing operations which use their waters. These are profitable private enterprises which pay fees and taxes to fish the waters and require no actual services or support from the Park Service. Again, this is an example of the shutdown closing down sources of government revenue instead of saving money.
The total budget of the Department of the Interior, which runs all the parks, is only $11.7 billion. It could be totally eliminated for the entire year and make no significant difference in the budget. Within that budget the National Park Service brings in over $300 million in yearly profits from fees and services, all of which are also being shut down. It could hardly be more irrational.
The decisions of what to shut down are under the control of the Office of Management and Budget, which is directly under the authority of the White House. It’s quite clear that their instructions from the top are to use shutdowns to cause maximum irritation and inconvenience, hurt businesses which are dependent on the government, and as an unintended consequence, cause additional loss of revenue at a time when it is most needed.
It seems logical that with $2.9 trillion already appropriated and allocated, the government could struggle on without a shutdown. That’s $600 billion more than the mandatory spending for the year, which even in our era of a weak dollar is still a hell of a lot of money. Yet rather than budgeting and moving money around and maximizing sources of revenue, the administration has chosen to politicize the situation and maximize public hardship instead.
Send more workers than necessary home. Ruin people’s vacations. Cost the government even more money. It’s an absurdly irresponsible way to manage the shutdown, and in some instances seems posibively malicious. Regardless of who caused the shutdown, responsibility for how it has been mismanaged rests squarely on the Democrats and the administration.
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