Of all the consequences that could result from the recent government shutdown, the ones reported in the Washington Post are the most heartbreaking.
One week into the shutdown, nutritional programs for women, infants and children could be disrupted. Millions of veterans may not receive benefits after week two. Head Start programs for children could begin to close if it goes longer. The National Institutes of Health could even turn away children with cancer.
In Philadelphia, things could be even worse. We could suffer each of the aforementioned consequences, but we could also face an additional burden, because Independence Historical Park is one of the 400 National Park Service sites that closed due to the government shutdown. If a prolonged shutdown results in a substantial loss of visitors, we could lose a significant portion of the $26 million in daily economic impact that tourists bring to the region.
The closures of Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Benjamin Franklin Museum, Independence Visitor Center, the Edgar Allan Poe House, Valley Forge National Historical Park, the President’s House, Congress Hall, Second Bank of the United States, Declaration House, and Old City Hall will not only hurt the city. They’ll also hurt the federal workers whose livelihoods depend on those sites.
Nearly 200 National Park Service employees have been furloughed in Philadelphia; people who support families, pay taxes, and bolster the local economy. Along with the visitors who produce around $446 million in annual revenue for Center City hotels, those federal workers are a vital part of the city’s economy. But they aren’t a part of the political debacle that led to this moment, and that’s what makes this whole affair so galling.
The millions of veterans, the women, infants and children, the Head Start programs, the federal workers—none of them are responsible for the government shutdown that will adversely affect them. Rather, the shutdown is the result of a disturbing trend that has made compromise a dirty word. It has made losing with grace a thing of the past. And perhaps most disturbing, it has made campaigning a priority over governing.
But campaigns are not meant to be perpetual. They’re not designed to last for years. They’re not supposed to play out in the implementation of policy, and should never spill over into day-to-day governance. Yet here we are, suffering through the first government shutdown in 17 years because politics has taken precedence over governance.
How did we get here? In my view, conservative Republicans saw a campaigning opportunity, so they did what any competent political strategist would do. They looked at the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—a law commonly known as Obamacare—saw its potential to provide healthcare to millions of currently uninsured Americans, and determined that the law was a positive for the Democrats.
Having worked in politics, I know that turning the opponent’s biggest positive against him is the political Holy Grail. It is a strategy that Republicans have consistently tried to implement concerning Obamacare. In its most recent iteration, the strategy resulted in a government shutdown that was timed to coincide with the rollout of the healthcare exchanges at the heart of the healthcare law.
Why is the timing politically significant? Because shutting down the government on the day a major portion of the healthcare law went into effect was a textbook example of campaign communications strategy. Not only did it step on the opponent’s media moment by changing the subject. It also placed Republicans at the center of the story, and forced the opponent to respond in the media.
During a political campaign, such a strategy would represent nothing less than tactical brilliance. But as much as some Republicans would like us to think so, this isn’t campaign season. This is the day-to-day work of the government. That means real lives are being affected, real people are being hurt, and real consequences are being felt.
Here in Philadelphia, those consequences could be particularly acute. If the shutdown drags out and tourists avoid the city’s shuttered historical sites and take their dollars elsewhere, our economy will suffer. So will the economies of other National Park Service sites throughout the nation.
House Republicans know this, and offered legislation that would reopen National Park Service sites toward the end of the first day of the shutdown. In an all or nothing response of their own, Democrats rejected that proposal.
The irony is that the healthcare law at the center of the standoff went forward, even as our leaders went backwards.
Over 2.8 million people visited the federal HealthCare.gov website during the first day the healthcare exchanges were available. New York’s state health exchange received 10 million hits, causing technical glitches as the site was overwhelmed with visitors. Other state run sites experienced similar problems.
But in spite of the glitches, Americans weren’t buying the message of some Republicans—that Obamacare must be stopped even if it means shutting down the government. A new Quinnipiac University poll released on Tuesday showed that 72 percent of voters oppose Congress shutting down the federal government as a way to stop Obamacare from being implemented.
This is not the time to campaign. This is the time to govern. Americans know that.
In the wake of the failed political strategy that led to the government shutdown, here’s hoping our leaders know it, too.