Government-Shutdown Watch: An Inside View

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I mentioned yesterday the uncertainty tax that the possible government shutdown was imposing on "normal" government operations, as people from National Park employees to members of the military tried to figure out whether they could plan as far ahead as next Monday.

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I included mention of one important Cabinet Department that was not sure whether it could welcome a foreign delegation arriving this weekend for long-planned talks. NEWS UPDATE: I have heard just now, from a State Department spokesman, that "The Consultation on People Exchange hosted by Secretary Clinton and State Councilor Liu Yandong will still proceed as planned even during a shutdown." So there! And that is good news. State Councilor Liu Yandong, fyi, is the highest-ranking woman in the Chinese government.

Despite this development, a reader's account of other shutdown-related churn at State:

>>As the spouse of a federal government employee who happens to work in the department that you mentioned in your piece today (you know, the one run by the wife of a former U.S. President) I've had a very interested (and often troubling) ringside seat to the budget fight and the looming shutdown.

A few general thoughts before going into a few veiled specifics. First, it seems as though the government has been doing nothing this week other than preparing for the shutdown. I wonder what the cost is to productivity and the work the federal government ought to be getting done on a daily basis. Second, has anything been written on the massive disruption this is causing?

That is to say, my wife has been deemed 'essential' so she'll be working and will get paid. But what about those who will have to work and not get paid? Or those not working AND not getting paid? As we are still slowly emerging from the economic and housing crises, I think we have to stop and consider the considerable impact that this will have when household incomes vanish, bills go unpaid, and mortgage payments missed. This will be the real impact of the shutdown.

Now, a few details about that certain federal department whose name will go unmentioned. No one knows what is going on. Decisions about who is essential and who isn't were made only a few hours ago. As the parents of two pre-school aged children, we've had to work through several different child care and parenting coverage scenarios to cover every possible outcome. Not fun -- especially when we've had to torch nearly all of them at the last minute.

My wife's boss was trying to celebrate [a major family event] last night, only to be interrupted by phone calls, many of which were placed after midnight. One might say that's part of the job, and normally I would agree. But when the Appropriations staff on the Hill don't really know what they are asking (we'd have to go very deep into the minutae of the budget for me to explain), are getting no clarify from their popularly elected bosses, and that is forcing this person to not really provide the right answers and information, you can see where this can become a very frustrating situation.

My wife also told me that they had to tread very carefully with deeming who is essential and who isn't as when this happened in 1995/96, there were a number of noses out of joint and feelings hurt over being labeled 'non-essential.'<<

We'd mock this if it were happening in, say, Italy. The reader adds this political note:

>>A semi-hard news tidbit: the disagreement over Planned Parenthood is a smokescreen to hide the fact that they can't agree on the numbers.  What I find so troubling about this is that the WH has met the Republicans about 70% of the way, yet Boehner keep moving the goal posts.  Why the WH can't this storyline into the media is beyond me.  But then again, as Dan Balz observes today, we are seeing perhaps yet another example of a cerebral leadership style that is still not working.<<
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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