The damage of the 16-day partial government shutdown is done, and it has been extensive.
Economists estimate the cost of lost jobs, lower retail sales, depressed travel and tourism, lost productivity of federal workers, delayed mortgages and other hardships at between $12 billion and $24 billion.
The deplorable episode also included a suspenseful look over the financial cliff as Congress balked until the 11th hour to extend the federal debt ceiling. That reckless play of brinkmanship shook financial markets and sparked efforts by some countries to find alternatives to the U.S. dollar as the world’s primary reserve currency — a move sure to drive up interest rates and inflation.
There also is professional and personal damage for federal employees to endure and clean up: Backlogs that have grown, derailed projects that must be put back on track, untold hours of lost productivity spent on shutting things down and, now, starting things back up. Some must get their financial lives whole again by restoring savings or paying back short-term loans and unemployment benefits that helped bridge the interruption in pay.
Many feds now say they plan to retire or leave their federal jobs earlier than planned. And experts widely expect there to be costs to federal recruitment efforts, though the precise toll remains to be seen.
Despite the toll and monumental waste, lawmakers failed to get the country beyond governmental dysfunction. There is no budget deal to put the nation on a stable path forward, and an automatic sequester looming in January will impose yet another round of painful budget cuts with the precision of a blunderbuss.
What needs to be done? Simple: compromise. Republicans must sit down and strike a long-term budget deal with Democrats — yes, a grand bargain that will bring much-needed stability to the economy and the federal budget. Government cuts and downsizing are needed in many places, but they must be done in a smart and deliberative way rather than as partisan pandering to constituencies.
But conservative Republicans — who have careened dangerously down a path of disruption over governance — have so far scuttled any possibility of a grand bargain or any other reasonable compromise that even members of their own party have been willing to consider.
Hopefully, moderates in the Republican Party will reassert their muscle and put the party back on a path toward effective governance.