November 13, 1995
Web posted at: 11:20 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Brooks Jackson
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Suppose 40 percent of the federal workforce stayed home for a few days. Would anyone notice?
The conventional wisdom says the impact on the average American will be slight, provided that the shutdown lasts no more than a few days.
"There will be work that isn't done," said Carol Cox Wait, of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "There's lack of productivity. There are costs involved. If it doesn't last more than a few days, I suspect most Americans simply will not notice."
Essential government services will continue. Mail will be delivered. Medicare and Social Security checks will be mailed. Air traffic will be controlled. Soldiers and sailors will be paid. Federal courts, prisons and veterans hospitals will stay open and veterans' checks will be printed.
On the down side, the State Department won't be issuing passports, except for emergencies. The threat of a shutdown prompted applicants to line up Monday to get their forms in before the Tuesday deadline. National parks, federal museums and monuments will be closed. The National Zoo will be closed as well, but the animals will be fed.
Congressional leaders promise to make up any lost pay for the hundreds of thousands of "non-essential" federal workers sent home. If the promise is kept, these workers will receive, in effect, a paid vacation.
The shutdown will cost taxpayers, although the amount is debatable. The General Accounting Office estimated the cost of the three-day shutdown in 1990 at a mere $3.4 million. That was during a Columbus Day holiday. Had the shutdown occurred during three normal working days, the cost could have been as high as $607 million, according to GAO estimates. That works out to about $200 million a day.
But that figure may be artificially high. It includes $63 million a day in lost productivity, not lost money. It also includes $110 million a day the Internal Revenue Service claims it would lose in tax collections if it shut down even temporarily. GAO said the figure "may be substantially overstated."
So, would the public even notice?
"At the start, most people won't," said Allen Schick of the Brookings Institution. "But after awhile, they might, in terms of grants, in terms of processing application, in terms of new people enrolling in Medicare and in Social Security. This takes time to build up ... We can go through weeks in which the biggest uproar will be in the media."
Even government contractors may not be affected right away. Lockheed-Martin said it has two to three weeks of government payments in the pipeline.
At this point, few expect a shutdown to last more than a few days. And the relatively small cost of a shutdown allows both sides in the budget dispute to take tough stands without really causing serious inconvenience to the public.
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