|Why No One 'Won' the Shutdown|
|By JOAN E. GREVE, ANNETA KONSTANTINIDES and NICKI ROSSOLL||Oct 17, 2013, 10:54 AM|
It was good news for hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal employees who began returning to work Thursday morning. But as the smoke begins to clear, there's no question: There were far more losers than winners in the shutdown of 2013. And its long-term effects on the nation's economy, tourism, veterans and the country's most vulnerable Americans definitely left a mark.
For those who think the shutdown wasn't all that bad, think again. Here are some of the worst consequences of the past two weeks:
How much did the shutdown cost? The economy took a $24 billion hit, according to financial ratings' agency Standard and Poor's. That comes out to $1.5 billion a day, with an estimated 0.6 percent shaved off the annual fourth-quarter GDP growth. $3.1 billion was lost in government services. Though furloughed workers will get back pay, their products were denied to millions of taxpayers.
With the closing of such landmarks as Yosemite National Park, Alcatraz Island, and a number of famous Washington, D.C., sights, tourism took a major hit too, costing the U.S. $152 million per day in spending related to travel.
The nation's capital felt the hit especially hard. There was a $44 million a week decrease in the city's economic activity and $6 million decrease in tax revenue. In the first week of October, restaurant traffic was down 7 percent and $2 million less in hotel room revenue compared to the same week in 2012.
The silver lining? With a number of restaurants slashing happy hour prices and extending drinking hours for furloughed workers with time to kill and sorrows to drown, restaurant beverage sales, primarily liquor, was up three percent in the first week of October compared to the first week of September.
While the hours ticked away to the debt ceiling deadline, members of Congress were able to let off some steam by visiting the "essential" House and Senate gym.
The gym, known as the members' Wellness Center, remained open throughout the shutdown, even though a separate gym for congressional staffers closed.
Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, brought unflattering attention to this when he said during a radio interview, "There's hardly anybody working down there. There's no towel service, and so we're doing our own laundry down there. And we pay a fee to belong to the House gym."
But Braley and all the other members of Congress could afford to keep up that fee given that their paychecks during the shutdown never stopped.
The shutdown initially delayed military death benefits to the families of fallen service members. At first, the Department of Defense was unable to distribute the usual $100,000 gratuity to these families.
To resolve the issue, the non-profit charity Fisher House stepped in last week to provide the funds to families. Late Thursday, President Obama signed a bill to reinstate the official federal benefits.
The initial concerns that veterans would be unable to access the World War II Memorial turned it into one of the most prominent symbols of the shutdown.
And it became a progressively more politicized as the shutdown continued. At a rally on Sunday, protesters pushed the barricades to the side to enter the memorial then carried the broken barricades to the gates of the White House.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was among the demonstrators. During the rally, she said, "Our vets have proven that they have not been timid, so we will not be timid in calling out any who would use our military, our vets, as pawns in a political game."
When the shutdown did not finish after the first week -- and then stretched to more than two weeks -- veterans began to worry about their educational and disability benefits, which could have run out if the shutdown continued much longer.
Veterans converged at the WWII Memorial on Tuesday to rally for a rapid end to both the shutdown and their concerns. Audree Morrison, a veteran of the Michigan National Guard, attended the rally both for her own sake and that of the many other former service members.
"They're worried about losing their homes, they're worried about losing their cars, they're worried about where they're going to live if they're going to be homeless, so it's quite the undertaking for them right now," Morrison told ABC News.
Family vacations were swept into tailspins when national parks and monuments -- including the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty and Yosemite -- closed during the government shutdown. Signs posted outside the Lincoln Memorial reading, "Because of the Federal Government Shutdown, All National Parks Are CLOSED" became another symbol of the two turbulent weeks.
Some parks, including the Grand Canyon, eventually reopened thanks to state, local or private funding. However, the National Parks Service estimated that $76 million in federal revenue was lost each day during the shutdown -- for a total of $1.2 billion lost from just the parks system alone.
With restricted access to a wide range of nutritional, medicinal, and educational resources, the shutdown wreaked the most havoc on the country's most vulnerable: low-income families, the sick and the elderly.
The shutdown put at risk access to baby formula provided to low-income mothers through the Women, Infants and Children program. Many mothers were concerned how they would feed both their newborns and their families if the supply ran dry and they were forced to buy the expensive formula without assistance.
The shutdown also affected the National Institutes of Health, which effectively stopped all cancer trials until the government reopened. Stories filled the media of cancer patients, including children, who had been waiting years to get into treatment trials and were now running against a stopped clock.
Education also took a hit as the shutdown threatened to close Head Start programs in six states and leave over 7,000 children on an involuntary vacation and a number of low-income and student parents with no child-care assistance. The program was reopened thanks to a $10 million gift from billionaire philanthropists John and Laura Arnold. A number of Meals on Wheels programs were also left hanging by a thread.
Although Congress and the White House have come to an agreement to reopen the federal government and avoid default, there is little reason to celebrate -- we may be headed for another fiscal crisis in just a few months.
The agreement to end the shutdown will only fund the government until Jan. 15 and extend the debt limit until Feb. 7.
Work has already begun on Capitol Hill for bipartisan negotiators, who, as part of the Senate's compromise to reopen government, have been tasked with brokering a long-term budget deal by Dec. 13.
On Wednesday night, a reporter asked President Obama whether the country would face another standoff over funding the government and raising the debt limit in a few months.
"No," Obama said as he walked back into the West Wing.
We will see if he was right.