On Government Shutdowns, Giraffe Manure, and the Larger Debate

Apr 5, 2011 8:53am

White House officials have started telling agency and cabinet officials to begin informing managers about shutdown plans — just in case.

White House officials caution that such steps would be in motion at this point regardless of how well the negotiations were going to avert a government shutdown before Friday.

But make no mistake: negotiations are not going well.

“We are aware of the calendar, and to be prudent and prepare for the chance that Congress may not pass a funding bill in time, OMB today encouraged agency heads to begin sharing their contingency plans with senior managers throughout their organization to ensure that they have their feedback and input,” Office of Management and Budget spokesman Ken Baer told ABC News. “As the week progresses, we will continue to take necessary steps to prepare for the possibility that Congress is unable to come to agreement and a lapse in government funding ensues.”

During the 21-day government shutdown of 1995-96, the Washington Post reported that National Zoo “Lot E didn’t have any cars, but it had piles of chunky elephant, rhino, hippo and giraffe manure. That’s when you know you got yourself a government shutdown. The manure usually is sent to a greenhouse operated by the Smithsonian Institution for composting, but during the shutdown, recycling hippo scat wasn’t deemed essential.”

The zoo this time promises that no animal waste will be stored in the parking lots, the Washington Post now reports. But the shutdown will mean parks closed, federal employees furloughed, citizens will have difficulty getting answers to any questions about Social Security benefits or Veterans’ benefits.

The economic recovery will, according to the Business RoundtableMark Zandi, and Goldman Sachs, be hobbled.

President Obama later this morning hosts congressional leaders at the White House to try to cobble together a compromise for a short term budget to avoid this – polls indicate that unlike with the Clinton v. Gingrich shutdown, the American people would hold Obama and Congress equally responsible for a shutdown.

Democrats close to the process complain that the biggest problem is that Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, simply does not control his unruly caucus, so negotiating is extremely difficult.

But be forewarned: this is just Act One of a much longer play. The next act will be the debate over raising the debt ceiling; In a letter to congressional leaders yesterday, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner warns that the debt ceiling must be raised no later than May 16. Defaulting “would cause a financial crisis potentially more severe than the crisis from which we are only now starting to recover,” he wrote. 

Following that will be the larger debate over debt and deficits, with Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget – introduced today — serving as the opening GOP salvo.

-Jake Tapper

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