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Editorial: The high price of congressional discord

Nov. 10, 2013 - 12:27PM   |  
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We all knew the 16-day partial government shutdown last month would be harmful for the country.

Now we have a clearer picture of exactly how harmful it was, based on after-action reports:

■ Fourth quarter gross domestic product growth was trimmed by between 0.2 and 0.6 percentage points, or between $2 billion and $6 billion in lost output.

■ As many as 120,000 fewer private-sector jobs were created during the first two weeks of October.

■ Federal agencies lost 6.6 million days of productivity due to employee furloughs, costing $2.5 billion in total compensation.

■ Steady advances in reducing the backlog of veterans’ disability claims were set back.

■ Almost $4 billion in tax refunds were delayed.

■ Hundreds of patients were unable to enroll in National Institutes of Health clinical trials.

■ Home loan decisions for 8,000 rural families were delayed.

■ An estimated $3 billion in revenue from tax enforcement activities were not collected.

■ The government was forced to pay many millions of dollars in interest on billions of dollars in late payments.

The list — compiled and released last week by the Office of Management and Budget — goes on.

The list above includes only the short-term costs of the shutdown; there also is long-term damage certain to result from this shutdown and numerous threatened shutdowns in recent years. That damage concerns the government’s future workforce: How can federal public service continue to attract high-quality talent when it is repeatedly attacked by members of Congress in the form of shutdown threats, pay and benefits cuts and anti-government rhetoric?

There also is a significant, though perhaps inestimable, cost to taxpayers that comes from Congress’s inability to reach a budget deal or pass spending bills that would bring much-needed stability to federal financial planning and management. Any federal financial manager knows that there are enormous inefficiencies and waste that occur when agency managers confront across-the-board cuts, unpredictable budgets and continuing resolutions that are not the product of effective planning, debate and negotiation.

Tea Party-backed Republicans in Congress have wielded the threat of a government shutdown repeatedly since they were ushered into Congress in large numbers in 2010. Many have openly eschewed the notion of compromise with Democrats.

It is past time that such irresponsible behavior stops. As the OMB report and other estimates attest, the damage to our country is too great.

Many experts and business leaders agree that a “grand bargain” style long-term deficit-cutting deal would do wonders in terms of spurring a faster economic recovery, reducing deficits and improving the effectiveness of federal financial management. It would end the sequester, end budget uncertainty and provide a firm foundation for economic growth that businesses need before committing to hiring and expansion. Once economic growth can accelerate, so will revenues, driving down our deficits.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle must make that happen.

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