Shutting down the government

Went through six government shutdowns during our 23 years in Washington.

The largest one lasted 27 days in a tug-of-war between President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Three of the six shutdowns came during my time working for Congress but none of them lasted more than a day. As an aide to members of Congress, my job was considered “essential” so work stoppages did not affect our offices, a situation widely criticized and discussed each time.

The other three came after leading “government service — one in 1990 over the Columbus Day weekend in a fight between Republican President George H.W. Bush and then-House minority whip Gingrich over a “deficit reduction” bill that included tax increases.

The 27-day shutdown began on Dec. 16, 1995 and ended on Jan. 6, 1996. I had flown to Manila in the Philippines on assignment shortly after that shutdown began and it became a factor for one of our group’s passport was stolen he had trouble getting a temporary one because the American embassy there had furloughed most of its workers, including those who handled visa and passport issues.

We left to fly home with him carrying a letter from the U.S. Ambassador in Manila. No problems with Phillipine customs before boarding the flight home but getting back into the United States took more than 90 minutes with customs officer on the phone to Washington before getting approval to let him come home.

We had friends directly affected by the shutdowns. Some were furloughed and told to stay home. Others were expected to work, without pay, with the hope that Congress and the White House would approve back pay when the shutdown ends.

For those living and working in and around Washington, partial shutdowns can reduce the traffic that strangles the region. Available seats can be found on the Metro subway during rush hours.

The Blue Ridge Parkway was already closed because of damage from storms but many national parks remain open for those who wish to visit, hike or sightsee. Areas where staffing is necessary may not be open.

A standard joke in Washington notes that the town always seem to be a more enjoyable place to live and work when the government is shut down.

That might be more of a truth is shutting down the government also closed the doors of Congress and the White House.

American lawyer and newspaperman Gideon John Tucker once wrote that “no man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

To update that, let’s say that “no one’s life, liberty or property are safe when Congress in in session or the White House is occupied.”

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