Leahy: The costly effects of a government shutdown

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont’s senior U.S. senator, who is president pro tempore of the Senate and chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

On Tuesday at midnight, the federal government shut its doors, closed for all but the most essential business concerning national security and the safety of the American people.

Vermonters, like Americans in every state and town of this country, are frustrated, confused, and angry because of the Congress’ inability to do its job and keep the government running. Visual consequences of the shutdown can be found around Washington, where museums and national monuments are barricaded.

In the states, national parks and national refuges have closed their gates and thousands of federal offices are shuttered. We heard this morning in the Senate Judiciary Committee from the director of the National Security Agency, Keith Alexander, that as “each day goes by, the impact and the jeopardy [of a shutdown] to the safety and security of this country will increase.” But the true toll of this needless exercise is just beginning to be felt.

While some decry federal spending as if it is some kind of communicable disease, millions of American families rely on government supported programs that provide the very lifeline keeping them afloat. Key nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program support 100,000 Vermonters. Another 1,600 children and families benefit from Head Start. More than 117,000 seniors are enrolled in Medicare, and close to 200,000 Vermonters are enrolled in Medicaid. These Vermonters will continue to receive assistance through the shutdown, but at what pace, when and for how long is uncertain.

The shutdown is hurting in other areas, too. Buyers hoping to purchase a home with a loan from the Federal Housing Administration will be turned away. Our nation’s readiness to respond is threatened; in Vermont alone, 450 technicians in the National Guard were furloughed yesterday, and another 100 were released from active orders.

For farmers in Vermont requiring assistance from the Department of Agriculture, there is no one in the field and no one in the office; over 200 USDA workers in Vermont have been forced to close up shop as a result of the shutdown. WIC, the supplemental food program for pregnant women and young children is 100 percent federally funded; there is only two weeks of funding available in Vermont for the nearly 16,000 participants in the state. What will happen to them? Our Republican colleagues in the House don’t say, and apparently don’t care.

Just yesterday, my office heard from one Vermont organization, Rural Edge. With the assistance of the USDA Rural Rental Housing Loan program, Rural Edge is building much needed affordable rental housing in St. Johnsbury, Vt. The time has come for Rural Edge to pay their contractor. They have the money, but no one is home at USDA’s Rural Development office to authorize the payment, and the work is likely to stop. This is just one of countless examples of how this needless shutdown has already started to impact my state. Every senator could tell similar stories.

Let’s reopen the government and get to the business of passing and conferencing appropriations bills in regular order. Let’s consider the spending bills that include funding for the national parks and the Smithsonian, but which also include funding for wildfire prevention and clean drinking water.


Many Americans think a government shutdown is a Washington, D.C., problem, and that the hundreds of thousands of federal workers furloughed live in or near the nation’s capital. Nothing could be further from the truth. Federal agencies operate in all 50 states. More than 40 federal agencies operate in Vermont, from the Department of Homeland Security to the U.S. Postal Service, the Veterans Administration to the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Justice.

These agencies employ over 7,000 people in Vermont alone. Nearly 1,000 of those employees reported to work Tuesday only to receive a furlough notice. These workers and their families are facing an unnecessary financial hardship, all because a handful of ideologues in Washington have elected to shut the government down rather than come to the table to find an acceptable way to pay our bills and respond to the needs of the American people. Failing to fund the government does not simply mean federal workers are furloughed and government programs are suspended. No. Revenue streams for the federal government also dry up.

The Department of Education? No one is home to collect on defaulted student loans.

The Department of Justice? Civil fraud investigations and litigation, including False Claims Act and fraud cases that bring so much money back to the government, are on hold.

The Internal Revenue Service? Audits that recoup millions in owed taxes are suspended. Billions of American taxpayers’ dollars are invested across the country and around the world. A shutdown means no one is home monitoring those investments.

After ping-ponging a continuing resolution back and forth, the House of Representatives has now adopted a piecemeal approach to reopening the government, agency by agency. Cherry-picking the parts of the government they want to fund is no way to fulfill our responsibilities to the American people.

If Republicans in the House were so concerned with staffing our national parks, they should have passed an Interior appropriations bill which would have funded not only the National Park Service, but the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service, and other agencies. They did not.

If Republicans in the House want to address funding for individual agencies, there is a clear path forward. Let’s reopen the government and get to the business of passing and conferencing appropriations bills in regular order. Let’s consider the spending bills that include funding for the national parks and the Smithsonian, but which also include funding for wildfire prevention and clean drinking water.

Let’s consider spending bills that fund the District of Columbia, along with the Treasury and federal Judiciary.

The continuing resolution passed by the Senate would fund all federal agencies and would provide us the time needed to consider a path forward over the next six weeks. This is a crisis driven by a handful of partisans in the House of Representatives. Vote after vote, day after day, the Senate has rejected one flawed House proposal after another, and still the House has not voted on the clean continuing resolution passed by the Senate. For a handful of House members, there is no path to compromise to keep our government running.

We are elected officials sent here to make decisions — not slogans — on behalf of our constituents. We are sent here to make government work for the American people. This Vermonter, like so many others, is sick and tired of the politics-as-usual approach that has led to this shutdown.

Let’s come to the table. Let’s be adults. Let’s work together for the good of the American people, reopen the government, and find a responsible and reasonable way to get our fiscal house in order.

It’s time for each of us to be a leader, not a sloganeer.

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  • David Usher

    I wish the shutdown did not occur, but you have, perhaps inadvertently, nailed the fundamental problem that over-reaching government has created in our country:

    “millions of American families rely on government supported programs that provide the very lifeline keeping them afloat.”

    Overall, this long term dependency has a corrosive effect on our society and culture.

    • John Greenberg


      Please explain the “corrosive effect on our society and culture” that “dependency” on, e.g. Social Security and Medicare have. Then please go on to explain the “corrosive effect” of the dependency of thousands of small businesses on the income they receive from federal workers they serve.

      • Keith Stern

        You are kidding, right? I would assume he’s talking about welfare where people get paid to do absolutely nothing while the working people have their money seized to support them. Money that could go towards retirement. Then one has to be dependent on the government to support them during retirement. Nothing corrosive there.

        • Peter Liston

          And he’s talking about VA benefits.
          And he’s talking about Social Security.
          And Medicare.
          And the FAA.
          And the CDC.
          And SCHIP.
          And Head Start.
          And public libraries and schools.
          And protecting the food supply.
          And protecting the homeland.

          We all depend on the government. It’s not corrosive. It’s part of what made this country great. Government serves us. All of us.

          Mitt Romney’s ‘47%’ is a myth. America was built by 100% of us.

          • Keith Stern

            I can’t speak for him but I would assume he doesn’t mean the entire government because those areas you mention are on a completely different level then welfare.
            Mitt’s statement was accurate; 47% wouldn’t consider voting for a Republican because the Dems and media have them convinced that the Republicans want to let them starve and die in the streets.
            Of course his statement was spun by the Democrat’s PR firms such as NBC, ABC, MSNBC, and CBS.

    • Lee Russ

      Shouldn’t the first question be “why is our economy in such shambles that millions of Americans need help to survive?”

      That’s my first question, and every time I try to answer it, I find myself looking at the real effects of globalization and the real effects of giving corporations and Wall Street special treatment.

      Why does Apple rake in billions in profit from sales to Americans, but employ so few Americans? Same for Nike and all the major footwear giants.

      Why do GE and Exxon-Mobil often pay zero in income taxes–that’s z e r o–despite billions in profits?

      With fewer and fewer jobs, lower wages for any new jobs, and the corporations which benefit from the “offshoring” finding ways to dodge their tax obligation, exactly what are the people injured by these phenomena supposed to do?

      • Lee Russ

        That’s something we agree on. But the question is what are they people left behind by globalization supposed to do? And what are all of us supposed to do about fixing the problem?

        Shrinking the government does nothing to help–that simply leaves the corporations free to do whatever they want without the need to spread any money to elected officials.

        Lowering individual income taxes doesn’t solve the problem, it just exacerbates it.

        We need everybody who thinks that we are being killed by offshoring, corporate tax breaks, Wall Street tax breaks, and letting super-rich folks keep more and more of their ever growing pile of money to start speaking up, start voting accordingly, and, especially, quit taking the frustration out on people who did not cause the problem.

        • David Usher

          I think digital networking and information technology and all that supports this ecosystem of massive databases and enormous computing power are rapidly hollowing-out the labor component of many economic sectors.

          This creates a deep dilemma. Tasks that could only be performed by a human in the recent past are giving way to ‘the digital machine.’ As an example, consider artificial intelligence and data mining of electronic documents in legal discovery that are replacing lawyers and legal assistants. Or medical diagnostic tools that can do more effective disease/symptom analysis than doctors… and on and on.

          The nature of middle, even upper middle class, work is affected so dramatically in some fields, that I think we are facing a crisis in the economic system that politicians and policy people have not yet grasped. In the labor-machine battle, the machine has the upper hand because of accelerating advances in technology combined with the inertia of our societal institutions and people’s expectations.

          Our politicians fail to see the future and its ramifications. Government typically applies yesterday’s solutions for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges and the results are demonstrably no cure for our economic malaise.

          The easy and popular solution is to insert government as the backstop for this upheaval which, in turn, creates this unhealthy dependency.

          What’s needed is a rethinking of the framework in which business is conducted and jobs are created. Most of our institutions are not preparing the citizenry for tomorrow’s reality and our democracy is threatened by this lack of vision.

        • Lee Russ


          I don’t doubt that this is going on, but it comes after many years of deliberately shipping work to low-labor-cost countries. This simply makes it worse.

          “What’s needed is a rethinking of the framework in which business is conducted and jobs are created.”
          Got any ideas? Because frankly, between offshoring, automation, and pressure for fewer employees to do more work, we’re on the edge of a whole new world in which unemployment is a plague everywhere.

        • Keith Stern

          How about the “free trade” agreements? They allow other countries to use slave labor to produce goods cheaper while keeping their employees poor and reduce our good paying jobs. It was immoral to sign any of those without making sure employees in those countries had the right and protection of the government to organize to get better wages and working conditions.

      • Keith Stern

        How about Leahy and the rest of his party try and make a more business friendly environment to encourage businesses to create jobs here rather than figuring out how to bleed the companies that want to remain here more and more so they can give assistance to more people because the wages are aren’t keeping up and more people can’t find good jobs.
        It’s easy to blame business but at least the government is a huge factor that can be fixed.

        • Lee Russ

          How about we get rid of all the laws that encourage or reward offshoring of jobs?

          How about we make sure that mega corporations swimming in profits pay some taxes?

          How about we quit treating investment bankers like deities?

          How about, as you hinted above, we get realistic about free trade agreements that undermine our own employment and subject other countries’ workers to hellish conditions and air that can’t be breathed without a mask?

          And if so many of us agree that offshoring, lax taxation of hugely profitable businesses, and kowtowing to corporations are the real problems…how come most of the complaints are “government is too big” and we’re Taxed Enough Already”?????

          What in the world is the disconnect?

          • Keith Stern

            The laws are in place. They have written in loopholes for corporations. No one would complain about fair taxation for everyone, it’s the unfair taxation and government outspending revenues that people who understand object to.

          • Lee Russ

            I know the laws are in place, that’s why I said how about “we get rid of them’

            I still see a serious disconnect. In all the comments I’ve seen from you on this site, I don’t recall you ever being upset about offshoring, corporate tax dodging, and the like. Why not?

            As for government outspending revenues, obviously this is partly attributable to the number of Americans now unemployed/underemployed, which increases the need for spending, to the corporate tax dodging which seriously lowers revenue, and the outrageous costs of many defense projects, which seriously raises spending.

            How can you be upset about spending outstripping revenue but not be upset by most of the major reasons for that outstripping?

          • Keith Stern

            I am and the Tea Party members are. I talked about ending loopholes for corporations and making it more economically feasible for more American jobs when I ran for office.
            I haven’t heard any of VT’s delegation having a plan to stop loopholes and create more better paying jobs through tax reform. At least Bernie complains about it.

      • Lee Russ, I agree with you 100% about what the first question should be. I believe that you are right in your assessment that the effects of globalization play a large part in the dissappearance of jobs that helped contribute to the creation of a large “middle class” in this country which, in turn, made us a very prosperous country. Now we are seeing that widespread prosperity become more and more limited to a few people who through good luck, hard work, selfishness, unethical or downright illegal activity or any combination of that list, are able to achieve and/or maintain a level of prosperity that is not available to most of us anymore.

        I also agree that offshore outsourcing of jobs plays a major role in the stagnation of Americans’ income. However, as David Usher points out, many jobs have also been lost to technology and those jobs are not coming back no matter what we do. To me it appears that we are faced with a future of increasing population and a decreasing number of jobs that will provide the increasing population with the means to live a life above the subsistence level that we see in places like Ethopia and other “undeveloped” countries.

        Due to the corruption in our national government and the disconnect between policy makers there with the economic realities that a growing number of Americans are faced with, we are increasingly compelled to figure out for ourselves how we are going to create at least a level of sustainability for ourselves and those who come after us. There is a growing number of people and groups across the country which are taking on this challenge. One of these groups is Vermonters for a New Economy, Oct. 11-19 is New Economy Week nationally and Vermonters for a New Economy is planning and participating in events starting on Oct. 10 in an effort to work towards a sustainable economy in VT which is less dependent on the global financial and corporate systems than we presently are.

  • walt amses

    What’s really wrong with this picture is that the GOP’s desperate
    tactic fighting the Affordable Care Act – which is already a law – by shutting down the government undermines democracy. The ACA was deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court. It was on the table in the November election. Obama won: democrats won the senate and actually got a million more votes in the house than did their GOP rivals. Creating impermeable republican districts in several Southern and Midwestern states has assured the far-right, Tea Party fringe dwellers that their effort to destroy the country will go unpunished at the ballot box. They represent less than 18 percent of the electorate and yet the house republican leadership has allowed them to paralyze Washington and threaten the foundations of the country. What’s worse is that their only plan is the Paul Ryan/Mitt Romney “makers vs takers”. Philosophy Americans soundly rejected in November. Their biggest fear is that Obamacare will work and their propaganda will be exposed as lunacy, exactly as it’s being exposed with state after state moving into the 21st century with marriage equality.

    • Lee Russ

      They can have a caucus. They can’t shut the government down.

      • Keith Stern

        No it takes 2 parties who aren’t willing to compromise to accomplish that. Obama called Boehner to the WH just to tell him there would be no compromise.
        Obama: the great uniter

        • Eric Mills

          Good, the last thing we need is to reward the GOP for throwing yet another temper tantrum at everyone else’s expense.

          • Keith Stern

            Everyone being the 40% uninformed enough to believe Obamacare is a good thing for the country.
            So the Republicans representing 60% are doing the wrong thing?

    • John Greenberg

      “… the ‘right’ is now using the same tactics the ‘left’ has used for a number of years.”

      When did the left shut down the government or threaten to default on the debt?

      • Keith Stern

        The right has not shut down the government. The inability of the 2 sides to compromise is what has done it. Obama and Reid being unwilling to compromise has made a government shutdown necessary.

  • Mary Alice McKenzie

    Earlier this week, I listened to an interview on NPR of Rep. David Schweikert from Scottsdale, Arizona. Rep. Schweikert is a member of the Tea Party faction. Rep. Schweikert giggled, referred to what is happening in DC as “doing the dance”, downplayed the impact of the shutdown on Americans and concluded by saying that this was his “idea of fun”. Later that day I listened to women in Burlington who are afraid that the Head Start Programs in our community will close in the coming weeks or months similar to the shut downs that have happened already in other States. Regardless of ones politics, the point Senator Leahy is making is true: what is happening now in Washington does hurt real people. The “dance” that is being done is not fun for any thinking person with a heart. The longer people like Representative Schweikert play their game, the more real people will suffer.

    • Keith Stern

      Have you tried to contact Harry Reid’s office telling him to accept the Republicans’ demand that all government employees including Congress and the president fall under Obamacare so the impasse ends and they can begin to work on resolving the debt limit ceiling?
      Reid and Obama are the 2 obstructionists in the process. The Republicans want Obamacare gone because they know how detrimental it will be but they say if the rest of the country has to be forced into it government employees should not be exempt. Dirty Harry wants his golden policy. He is above the rest of us after all.

      • Eric Mills

        Neither Harry Reid nor Obama is going to give into the ransom demands of the GOP.

        Republican obstructionism has reached levels so demented that giving in at this point basically means admitting that the party of NO can do whatever they like and the nation should simply bend to their will.

        Keep trying to spin this, but the people are against you.

        • Keith Stern

          Ransom demands? You believe that their demanding all government employees must also be covered by Obamacare is holding someone hostage?
          Tell me why you believe Congress and the executive branch are above the rest of us and should be treated better and have special privileges?
          You agree with the Democrats that Obamacare is good enough for us but not good enough for them?

          • Eric Mills

            Let’s review the situation.

            1) Shortly after Obama wins re-election, Republicans present a budget that defunds his signature health care law.

            2) Obama refuses, states he will do nothing of the kind.

            3) Republicans shut down the government, Boehner refuses to even allow a vote on the clean CR passed by Reid in the Senate.

            That’s how we got here.

            Now, Republicans think they should be allowed to change legislation as a price for allowing the government to run?

            I do not believe any of the assertions you have made. The fact that you repeat provable false statements about the ACA simply shows you have a very poor understanding of the situation.

            Congress is not “exempt”. A clear and concise take down of this myth can be found below.


  • Stewart Skrill

    “We are elected officials sent here to make decisions — not slogans — on behalf of our constituents. We are sent here to make government work for the American people. This Vermonter, like so many others, is sick and tired of the politics-as-usual approach that has led to this shutdown.”
    Senator Patrick Leahy

    Senator Leahy, you tell it all in the above statement and anybody who understands why you were sent to congress in the first place,knows it is to protect States Rights from be infringed upon by a rouge federal government,
    You have repeatedly failed to do anything of the sought, such as even addressing gun rights.As chairman of the Judicary Committee you could have tabled any discussion that would infringe upon our states constitution, regarding our right to bare arms, and protected us from more federal government intrusion. You did what YOU thought best and wasted tax money. Quite frankly I really don’t give a tinkers dam what you think, it is what you don’t do to guard us, the citizens of Vermont from federal intrusion into our private lives, causing us to lose more of our LIBERTY and FREEDOM.
    Name calling and faulting others is a weak tactic. Look at yourself and ask, “What have I done for my state and country to protect its citizens from losing their inalienable rights?

    • walt amses

      Oh, of course…..the “liberty and freedom” enjoyed by poor people throughout the old confederacy to do without health care; suffer needlessly; and die prematurely. They must appreciate the “states rights” exercised by the GOP governors who refused to expand Medicaid, leaving their children without health insurance. And – of course – we should focus instead on helping people acquire more guns. As patently absurd as this reasoning is, there are people out there who want to live in a country where it’s far easier to purchase a firearm than get a medical check up.

      • Keith Stern

        Where do you get this from? we should focus instead on helping people acquire more guns. As patently absurd as this reasoning is, there are people out there who want to live in a country where it’s far easier to purchase a firearm than get a medical check up. What?
        Can you name any person who has been denied healthcare because he/she couldn’t afford it? That is a myth liberals use to further their agenda.

        • walt amses

          Sorry Keith, I can’t do alternate reality. “Where do you get this from?”….YOU mentioned gun Rights in a discussion about health care and you’re asking me where I got it? And you now suggest it’s a “liberal myth” that Americans are unable to afford health care? (And your next post will point out emergency rooms are always available as though that’s a reasonable alternative or doesn’t cost us all). When you’re out to spread the gospel of Sean Hannity and Faux News, you sacrifice any credibility you might have had.

          • Keith Stern

            Sorry Keith, I can’t do alternate reality.
            You can and you just did. You just don’t understand that.
            Comparing guns to healthcare makes as much sense as comparing cars to refrigerators. But being a liberal you do it anyway. Those living on planet earth realize they are completely different issues that have no comparison.
            Keep trying though.

        • Richard Simms

          “Can you name any person who has been denied healthcare because he/she couldn’t afford it?”

          Ok, 26,000 die prematurely without health insurance (

          And that number is lower than a lot of other studies on the subject.

          What you call a “liberal myth” is just the reality of the situation.

          • Keith Stern

            Please. How much BS was that? A college professor that didn’t have health insurance through the job? What school was that? And between them they were working 6 jobs but couldn’t make enough for health insurance? I bet if the story was true you’d find then that they were living beyond their means.
            I don’t know of anyone earning below a certain level that can’t qualify for state subsidized health insurance. How many choose to avoid paying for insurance and will still do that anyway?
            There is a much better way of assisting lower income people with health insurance than a program that will disrupt the economy and ultimately fail. That is government provided catastrophic coverage.

          • Eric Mills

            Richard just obliterated your ridiculous everyone gets healthcare myth. You desperate attempts to vilify the victims will not change this.

            “I don’t know of anyone earning below a certain level that can’t qualify for state subsidized health insurance.”

            Sadly for you, the world does not stop at the end of your nose. Quite a few people in this country don’t know you, that does not mean they do not exist.

            As usual, you have made a completely false assertion, been proven wrong, and refused to admit it.

            You go on to suggest a plan, provide no evidence that it will work, yet provide you absolute assurance that it will anyway.

            Try to educate yourself on the issue, then you might have something of value to contribute.

          • Keith Stern

            Well I know that experts and even liberals have said Obamacare will fail, Bernie being one and Ralph Nader being another. Mine would succeed because it works in part by the auto insurance industry and health insurance.
            You obviously aren’t insightful enough to see logic and need someone who you believe is qualified, maybe a brainiac like Shumlin. Unfortunately he is in the same position as you so he’d rather do further damage to Vermonters to employ a plan that will hurt Vermonters financially.
            Keep trying though.

          • Eric Mills

            Looks like my last comment got lost. Let me try this again.

            I get it Keith, you’re upset that someone used facts and evidence to tear apart your belief that no one is denied healthcare because they can’t afford it.

            I’m upset because after seeing your argument utterly disproved, you choose to pretend the argument is invalid and villify the victims.

            “I don’t know of anyone earning below a certain level that can’t qualify for state subsidized health insurance.”

            And if you knew literally everyone in the country, that might be a valid counter argument. Sadly for you, that is not the case.

          • Keith Stern

            Well apparently the most liberal state in the country doesn’t do a very credible job of taking care of it’s citizens.
            Do you always buy everything you read or hear if it comes from what you believe to be a credible news source? I pointed out obvious flaws in the story but you can’t see that?

          • Eric Mills

            You didn’t point out anything beyond your own biases.

            You claimed the professor was “living beyond his means” based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever.

            Again, the fact that you do not know anyone who has been denied healthcare based on income proves absolutely nothing.

            And now you are trying to change the subject rather than simply admit you were wrong.

            I believe what statements that can be factually verified. You clearly believe right wing talking points that are provable false.

  • Its interesting to note that during the government shut down, Senator Leahy, who is collecting his pay check from the tax payers , is too overwhelmed to receive e-mails from his constituents. I attempted to e-mail him and his site put up a”closed sign’ saying we’re too overwhelmed.

    On the other hand, Senator Sanders, who is faced with the same circumstances as Sen. Leahy, was able to handle the task of listening to his constituents.

    Time for our good senior Senator to try a little harder.

    • Keith Stern

      You noticed that too?