For Medicare users, the government shutdown is anything but a laughing matter. (Wilfredo Lee / AP)
The Republican shutdown of the federal government is being felt not only in Washington, but here in Michigan as well. Workers, military members and even children are the unfortunate victims of the political budget games.
Michiganís budget director announced that the federal shutdown is costing the state $18 million a day. It forced the state government to send furlough notices to unions representing state workers telling them that some 4,000 employees whose positions are funded partly or fully by federal monies could be laid off. It shuttered Michiganís five national parks and temporarily sent thousands of military and civilian workers at the U.S. Army Garrison Detroit Arsenal and Selfridge Air National Guard Base home without pay. In short, the shutdown is killing the economy, both here and nationwide.
Sadly, it is also putting some of the stateís most vulnerable citizens at risk. Federal monies that help provide food stamps, subsidized school lunches and special assistance for low-income pregnant mothers and children are running out. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture has warned food banks that it will not be able to provide any more funding until Congress reaches a budget agreement.
This is no way for the greatest nation on Earth to operate. Unfortunately, though, it is not surprising. Capitol Hill continues to be held hostage by lawmakers putting corporate interests and their own political ambitions above hardworking Americans. We are quickly nearing the Oct. 17 debt ceiling deadline.
What would breaching the debt limit mean to the average American? A lot. Its effects would be more wide-reaching than the federal shutdown. It would force the government to suspend payments to Social Security and Medicare recipients. It would also require the government to immediately pay down its $742 billion budget deficit. And it could also cause the first government default in U.S. history.
Failure to raise the debt ceiling would also hurt anyone with debt or investments. Because this country would be seen as a credit risk, interest rates for U.S. workers could soar. That would affect mortgages, car loans, credit card debt and student loans. Retirement funds would almost certainly nosedive as well.
Now is the time to support the weak economy, not drive it into a ditch. Historically, when times have been tough, we have kept spending to prop up our economy. Right now, inflation-adjusted government spending is about 15 percent lower than other post-World War II recoveries. If we had matched that average, the U.S. would have about 5 million more jobs now, most in the private sector, according to the Economic Policy Institute
Extremist Republicans are on a reckless course with serious and real consequences. U.S. workers continue to struggle and nearly 22 million people are unemployed or underemployed. Now is not the time to score political points and further divide our country by playing to a right-wing fringe that wants to destroy our government.
Real patriots donít try to torpedo the greatness of America.
Instead, they bolster what makes us great, which is the ability of our citizens to prosper through opportunity and hard work.
James P. Hoffa is general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.