Government Shutdown Digest

Reports from our sister alt-weeklies — and from the University of Tampa.

click to enlarge “IT’S JUST NOT RIGHT”: UT students (L to R) Mia Ramos, Stanley Petithomme and Stephanie Woods. - Kyetra S. Bryant
Kyetra S. Bryant
“IT’S JUST NOT RIGHT”: UT students (L to R) Mia Ramos, Stanley Petithomme and Stephanie Woods.

As of press time, the government shutdown was still dragging on. Southcomm, the chain of newsweeklies of which Creative Loafing is a part, owns papers in, among other cities, Cincinnati, Atanta, Charlotte and Washington, D.C. The following excerpts from these publications show the wide and varying impact the shutdown has had.

The shutdown story is an intensely local one for the Washington City Paper. One of its own writers, freelance film reviewer Alan Zilberman, is also a federal employee, and he’s been describing the furlough experience in a series called “The Shutdown Diaries,” each entry of which is prefaced, “I am a nonessential federal employee. This is my shutdown.”
From “The Shutdown Diaries,” by Alan Zilberman, Washington City Paper:
Oct. 3: My alarm wasn’t set for this morning, but I wake up at the usual time. It turns out my internal clock is indifferent to the ongoing negotiations between Congress and the president. As the shutdown continues, I find I’m learning things about myself. For one thing, I don’t just want to laze about. Routines are important, and so is getting out of the apartment. I consume culture at a rate that’s faster than average — I moonlight as a film critic, and can talk your ear off about the latest serialized TV drama — yet the last thing I want to do is marathon through a show on Netflix. Maybe I see acquiescing to a couch-potato day as a flag of defeat? Hard to say, but the forecast calls for rain on Monday, so I guess I’ll find out then. …
Oct. 7: On Friday I went to a shutdown party in Capitol Hill where the host specifically noted that federal employees need not bring any food or drink. I was one of a few feds there, and I appreciated some of the more clever touches. In the bathroom, for example, the host printed out the question, “ARE YOU ESSENTIAL?” on white paper and pasted it onto the mirror. The host also started a shutdown-themed pet Tumblr, which is effective because, in a Buzzfeed sort of way, she understands that political outrage is at its most potent when cute animals accompany it. …

One of the biggest employers in Atlanta is the Centers for Disease Control, but when CDC scientists are out of work it’s not just Atlanta that’s affected but the health of the entire country.
From “Only one CDC scientist is tracking food-borne illnesses thanks to shutdown,” by Thomas Wheatley, Fresh Loaf, Creative Loafing Atlanta, Oct. 4:
If you think the government shutdown isn’t affecting you, you might want to take a closer look at how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is operating now that approximately two-thirds of its 13,000 employees have been told to stay home. Around 6,000 of the agency’s workers are in metro Atlanta.
WABE, which is partnering with CL throughout the month to report on metro Atlanta’s nonprofit community, spoke with CDC Director Tom Frieden yesterday. He says the government agency has been hamstrung from doing its job, which has left the country vulnerable to “blind spots.” Says Frieden to WABE’s Michelle Eloy:
“If an experiment was set up in the lab, a project was started, it may be that it could be stopped and resumed, but it may also be that there’s real damage to that,” Frieden says.
Frieden says normally, the CDC has eight scientists tracking and examining food-borne illnesses. Post-shutdown, there’s only one. Some research and reference labs have gone from a staff of 80 to 2, and staff at the 20 quarantine stations dotted along the country’s borders and ports has been reduced by 85 percent. The center’s hospital-acquired infections phone line — which Frieden says receives about 100 calls a day — has also been shuttered.
Some programs that are funded by cash not cut off during the shutdown remain up and running. (Those include departments focused on “imminent threats,” such as keeping the plague and smallpox at bay, thank God.) But the agency’s program to track and map the upcoming flu season has been drastically scaled back.

In Cincinnati, residents have had the dubious privilege of watching House Speaker John Boehner up close and personal: he represents the neighboring 8th Congressional District.
From “Local Politicians Behind the Government Shutdown,” by German Lopez, Cincinnati CityBeat, Oct. 3:
House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Butler County, didn’t want the government shutdown battle a few weeks ago. He consistently told his caucus to pass clean budget bills, likely because he knew Republicans would get the brunt of the blame if they failed to keep the government open.
Then Texas Sen. Ted Cruz came in. In a 21-hour speech in the U.S. Senate that began Sept. 24, Cruz criticized Obamacare and read Green Eggs and Ham in what was supposed to be a filibuster-like protest of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
The protest got the Tea Party members of Boehner’s Republican caucus all hot and bothered, which pushed them to do what they had already hoped to do all along: threaten to shut down the government if Democrats don’t repeal or weaken Obamacare …
They’ve all opposed it from the start, and they want to do everything they can to bring it down.
The shutdown is particularly timely because it comes on the eve of the “debt ceiling” debate. If Congress fails to increase how much debt the nation can hold by Oct. 17, the United States would be forced to default on many of its debt obligations. Since so much of the global economy is based on U.S. Treasury securities, the default would likely send the world’s markets into immolation.
Even without the debt ceiling, the shutdown is playing a significant role in the economy. Massachusetts-based IHS estimates it costs the nation about $300 million a day. In the Cincinnati metropolitan area, 22,000 federal workers, many of which are currently furloughed, make up 2.1 percent of the region’s workforce.
It’s easy to forget, but southwest Ohio and Cincinnati are actually playing a substantial role in the debate. Of course, Boehner is basically king of the House of Representatives as speaker. But local Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup have also supported repealing or weakening Obamacare through budget bills.
On the Senate side, Sens. Rob Portman, a Republican, and Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, oppose the efforts. Portman originally voted in favor of attaching an Obamacare repeal to the budget bills, but he’s since called on his fellow Republicans to forget Obamacare and focus on reducing the deficit instead.

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