This morning I overheard the following:
Guy 1: I don’t even know how we’re still open..
Guy 2: *looks at Guy 1 quizzically*
Guy 1: I mean, with the government shutdown and everything. I didn’t even know if the stoplights would be working…
Let me put one thing to rest quickly which is that your stoplights will not stop working. Not only is their operation considered essential but states have already enacted their budgets. So, everything in your neighborhood is pretty much the same. Unless of course you live in the District of Columbia in which case, I AM SO, SO SORRY. I cannot provide money or a vote in Congress but I can provide a hug.
People have asked for my “professional opinion” on a shutdown. I really have none. I mean it’s absurd and shutting down the federal government based on a law that has gone from Congress to the White House and then to the Supreme Court, is dangerous. It also sets a precedent that if things don’t go your way you’re going to take your ball and go home. I LOVE Congress and I think it's great honor to work with them daily, it's a dream come true but even I am less than pleased. Pissed, actually.
Now to answer a few crucial questions:
1. . Who are the players? President Barack Obama (D), the Speaker of the House John Boehner R- Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky)
There’s also a supporting cast of Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate who chair or second in charge of the various committees that have jurisdiction over the budget process.
2. How did this happen? I’m going to give the most succinct answer possible without going into the failure of the Super Committee.
On midnight of October 1 the fiscal year for 2014 year began and there was no budget place to fund the federal government for the next year. There is no budget because the House and Senate need to conference to discuss their differences in how to fund the government and that has yet to happen. When this happens the House and Senate will pass a non-partisan continuing resolution (CR) which will fund the government for a few weeks to a few months until there is an agreement in place. Normally this is a fairly easy process, in fact the federal government has been running on a continuing resolution for about two years now. The continuing resolution HAS to pass or the government will shut down because there is no money to run the various agencies. The House leadership, who have been long unhappy with President Obama’s health care law (Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act or ACA), decided to use this opportunity to add defunding of the health care law into the continuing resolution. All budget issues must originate in the House and then go to the Senate for approval. Usually, nothing is added to a continuing resolution because it’s simply continuing the budget at its current appropriation levels but the House leadership REALLY hates the Affordable Care Act and since the individual mandate would begin on October 1st they figured that this would be their last chance.
Senator Reid has said that he would not accept any continuing resolution that added in the defunding of the Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as a “clean CR”) and the president has, of course, said that he would not sign such a bill into law. The House and Senate went back and forth on what to include in the CR but the clock ran out before any compromise was made. So, the government was shut down.
3. But wait, I thought a health care law had already passed? It passed in February of 2010 and was signed into law in March. That is 3 ½ years ago but some Republicans hate it for a number of reasons. Companies and states who did not want to implement certain parts of the law even appealed it in federal courts all the way up to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled the law as constitutional. This bill has hit all three branches of government (passed by the legislature, signed by the president, proved constitutional by the Supreme Court) and yet there are many who are upset so they will continue to make every attempt to defund it or delay it. I can assure you that it will not be going anywhere.
a. I’m confused. What is Obamacare? Obamacare is a nickname for the Affordable Care Act. Originally it was a pejorative but those who agree with health care reform have come to embrace it as well. I promise that you are not the only person confused by the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare. Sometimes I like to be a smart ass and refer to it by its full name: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
4. What is a shutdown? A shutdown means that all federal agencies are closed and all non-essential employees have been furloughed - roughly 800,000 people. Of those who are essential - about 1.3 million - there paycheck will be delayed or they could not see one at all. All federal agencies are shut down because there is no means to fund them.
5. What’s open, what’s closed and will my stoplights work? Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, embassies and consulates, air traffic controllers, Homeland Security, veterans’ hospitals, parts of NASA (there are American astronauts at the International Space Station and we can’t just up and leave them there), the federal reserve and USPS are still open and semi-functional. Members of Congress are still paid (AND ON TIME) while they hash out a deal and of course the White House is open but non-essential employees have been sent home.
All national parks and monuments so, Yosemite and Pearl Harbor and the Lincoln Memorial to name a few are all closed. And the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program is no longer operating.
Your city, local and state government will continue to function. But, hey! If you’re in the middle of an audit from the IRS? You have a few days to breathe easy.
6. How long will this last? That is an excellent question and I have no idea. This evening (Wednesday, 10/2) the president and all congressional leaders (the players I mentioned up above) are meeting at the White House to negotiate. My fingers are crossed that this will end well but while I might do this for a living I do not know anything more than you right now. We’re all just watching C-SPAN and waiting for the next thing to arise. But I’ve been putting updates on Twitter (twitter.com/heatherbarmore) if you’re interested.
7. What happens next? The House and Senate will pass a clean continuing resolution to at least reopen the federal government and put people back to work which the president will sign. Then all three will debate the budget for the next year and raising the debt ceiling. The latter must be done by October 15th or else we will default on our loans. Basically expect many more weeks and months (at least up until mid-late December) to be all about the budget.
8. Any questions? Was this helpful? Do you want to know more? Here’s a primer from the Washington Post and Slate has a shutdown live blog and here’s the simplest explanation of how to end this thing via The Atlantic. And here is a list of national parks that you can’t get into.
“I’ve started to hear from moms of kids like my son, saying that they are also struggling with the same issues; honestly, that is so comforting. Because most of the time, it feels like I am alone in this, which makes it hard to talk about — and leaves me with very little to say.” - Susan Wagner
A few weeks ago I was speaking with a group of women - all mothers - about learning disabilities. I was there to provide my point of view as an advocate for public education and the changes public schools need to make in order to be successful. Their success leads to successful students, people and future members of our respective communities.
Prior to discussing learning disabilities I had a separate - but related - conversation on education funding and the trouble with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. One thing led to another and soon we were covering the sequester, funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and finally to parental engagement.
As a an advocate for educators (I like to say ‘advocate’ as opposed to ‘lobbyist’ because every time I say lobbyist someone asks if I had perfectly aged scotch with my filet mignon. And then they ask if I work for the NRA. No.) I always want to know what parents are thinking. It’s turned into a bit of an obsession for me; with every policy update in Washington I think beyond what will happen in the state and in the school but I want to know how parents are reacting and how the piece of policy 500 miles away will affect their child.
Which leads me back to learning disabilities: I have recently learned that parents are afraid to talk about what they are going through with their children. I asked my friend Susan who writes about her experiences with her older son and she said that it’s the stigma. She said it matter of factly that parents are afraid of the reaction from friends, family and others. The Other People that we are all afraid of, even though they may be nameless and faceless, there is still a worry about what they think which while natural, is unfair to the parents and, more importantly to the child. But as a person who wants parents to rise up and speak out as they are their child’s best advocate, I wonder how I - actually WE in the education community - can assist parents as they navigate the school system.
The unfortunate reality is that the legislation that determines how much in federal funding a school district that provides services for children with any sort of disability is not fully funded. Parents are often confused by the labyrinth of the IEP process. Meanwhile eachers and administrators now have the threat of job loss or poor evaluation scores if a child doesn’t do well on a test. It’s the perfect storm of disaster for a group of children and their parents who are already feeling overwhelmed.
During my conversation on learning disabilities I asked these parents what we, on the policy side, could do to make things easier. I also asked how parents could be advocates on a larger scale by talking to policy makers who don’t know about the pressures that so many families face. But here’s another reality; I can’t advocate for you and policy makers and education stakeholders do not how to assist the parents of children with learning disabilities and the children themselves, if the parents don’t speak up. For you parents and relatives of these exceptional children, here is what I want to know: Are you facing that stigma from other parents and how do you turn that negativity into a learning experience for others? How can we get you to speak out on behalf of your child and how can education stakeholders (from the teachers to those who write education policy) help your child?
Suggestions and answers are welcome.
photo by Anders Ruff