Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Taxpayers, you deserve your money back

By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor
updated 6:42 AM EDT, Mon October 7, 2013
The Statue of Liberty looms over visitors below on Liberty Island in New York Harbor on Sunday, October 13, 2013. The statue was closed to the public by the federal government's partial shutdown that began October 1, 2013, but reopened Sunday after the state of New York agreed to shoulder the costs of running the site during the shutdown. The Statue of Liberty looms over visitors below on Liberty Island in New York Harbor on Sunday, October 13, 2013. The statue was closed to the public by the federal government's partial shutdown that began October 1, 2013, but reopened Sunday after the state of New York agreed to shoulder the costs of running the site during the shutdown.
HIDE CAPTION
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • It's taxpayers who finance government operations, writes Bob Greene
  • Now that much of government is shutdown, we deserve a refund, he says
  • Consumers would demand refund from other providers who didn't provide services, he says
  • Greene: Government is expected to open its doors; if not, give us our taxes back

Editor's note: CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a best-selling author whose 25 books include "Late Edition: A Love Story"; "Duty: A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War"; and "Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen."

(CNN) -- So, when can we expect our refund checks?

Because two can play this game.

On the one side of the federal government shutdown are the people whose job it is to run that government: the Congress and the White House. Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals -- no one forced any of them to take those jobs. They wanted them. Then ran for them. They got them.

On the other side -- at least in a rational world, which this isn't -- is us. The taxpayers.

Congress still gets paid -- it's in the Constitution

Bob Greene
Bob Greene

We pay federal income tax with one solitary and bedrock expectation: We are handing our money over so that the federal government will run.

Some people may not like how the government operates; some may not care for a particular president or a particular member of Congress or a particular government program.

We accept that, as we pay our taxes. We pay those taxes because we have to. We know that we don't get to withhold those taxes just because we may dislike some of the people or programs the taxes are funding.

But when we are told that the government has been shut down-- that it has been closed for business -- that's different.

We paid for that service. We had no choice.

Americans hurt as DC 'squabbles like kids'

If we had paid for an airline ticket, and in the middle of our trip the airline informed us that one leg of our journey had been canceled, we would justifiably demand a refund.

Carney: GOP out to get 'political scalp'
Vets ignore shutdown, visit war memorial
Political blame game over govt. shutdown
Shutdown drags on, debt ceiling looms

If we ordered an annual subscription to 52 weeks of a magazine, and then, a few months into it, the magazine told us that its new policy was to publish only 26 issues a year, we would, with good reason, ask for half of our money back.

If we paid for a one-year membership in a health club, and the club announced that it would have to close for repairs for three months, we would expect a 25% refund.

So ... exactly when can we expect to see our refund checks from the federal government?

We have paid for it to operate.

And -- with the exception of what, for now, are being deemed certain essential functions -- it is not operating.

Opinion: Shutdown could be shock therapy

The people we have paid to operate it can blame each other all they want for what has happened. They can point fingers and say that it's all the other guys' fault.

But whoever ultimately shoulders the blame, the fact is that the people who hired them -- the American taxpayers -- are not getting what they paid for.

So the refunds, for the portions of government operations that have been shuttered, are owed. Or at least they should be owed, in any other kind of sane business.

The longer the shutdown continues, the larger the refunds should logically become. As if logic has had anything to do with any of these developments.

Congress and the White House might hear this request and say: That's preposterous. The government is hurting for funds -- it needs the money.

Well, many of the people who pay for the government to run are hurting for funds, too. They need the money, too.

The government, no matter what anyone thinks of its various policies, no matter where anyone positions himself or herself along the political and ideological continuum, is expected to do one thing:

Open its doors each morning.

When it doesn't, the people who paid for it to do just that have a right to propose that they are owed -- for services not rendered -- their money back.

With interest.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Greene.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:08 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
The NFL's new Player Conduct Policy was a missed chance to get serious about domestic violence, says Mel Robbins.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
updated 1:28 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
updated 6:10 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
updated 5:33 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
updated 12:40 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the CBO didn't provide an accurate picture of Obamacare's impact, so why rehire its boss?
updated 7:40 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Russian aggression has made it clear Ukraine must rethink its security plans, says Olexander Motsyk, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S.
updated 7:46 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
The Senate committee report on torture has highlighted partisan divisions on CIA methods, says Will Marshall. Republicans and Democrats are to blame.
updated 1:33 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
It would be dishonest to say that 2014 has been a good year for women. But that hasn't stopped some standing out, says Frida Ghitis.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT