On Wednesday Oct. 16, Congress voted on legislation on to reopen the government after a 16 day government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. A failure to reach a decision regarding the appropriation of funds was the reason for the federal government shutdown. Federal agencies had to work with a skeleton staff, scientific databases were no longer being maintained and funds were no longer being distributed.
The shutdown has drawn criticism from the public and elected officials, mostly due to the lack of discussion between disputing factions. The bill passed by Congress will reopen the government until Jan. 15 and raise the debt ceiling until Feb. 7.
Within two weeks, hundreds of thousands of federal workers were furloughed. In Davis alone, over 200 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) employees cannot work. Eight government websites are shut down altogether, while over 42 are severely limited.
Farmers cannot afford to harvest their crops because federal inspectors cannot visit the sites. If they can harvest it, they will be forced to sell their crop immediately rather than wait until spring for better prices since the Farm Bill subsidies only carry over through this fall season.
Businesses cannot apply for alcohol or import/export licenses. Facilities which make processed food for the masses are only being inspected by 976 out of 1,602 FDA investigators.
Federal grants, loans
Thankfully, the shutdown does not affect federal grants or loans for the 2013-14, but research and scientific tools are severely limited.
Gary Falle, associate vice president for UC Federal Governmental Relations at the UC Washington Center, explained that there are three major areas of funding: financial aid, research and healthcare. Each area is affected to different degrees, with research suffering the most immediate impacts, financial aid remaining stable per academic year and healthcare remaining most stable due to the majority of money coming from trust funds.
“Despite the shutdown being a heavy disruption, all the money for federal financial aid is paid in advance for each academic year, so no students are going to have their grants pulled,” Falle said. “However, if it goes on to July 1 [the day after the 2014 FAFSA application deadline], we might have an issue because the funds won’t have been made available for incoming students.”
Gina Banks, director of Federal Government Relations at UC Davis, pointed out that many agencies saw the shutdown coming and were able to soften the blow.
“Luckily I think that many federal agencies foresaw that this might happen so they tried to get everything out the door before it did,” Banks said. “Given that we did receive the last of our financial aid money on Sept. 27, and the government shutdown on Oct. 1, there might be some correlation but that’s purely conjecture.”
The National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) now have severely limited resources. Faculty members at university campuses were required to submit grant proposals by Oct. 5 to the NIH in order to receive appropriations, but now the proposals are left in bureaucratic limbo.
Dawn Sumner, a UC Davis geology professor, ran into funding roadblocks with NASA, which funds her research.
Professor Sumner had originally planned to spend four weeks in Antarctica this year and six weeks next year in the spring to collect chemical samples at key transitions in the microbial communities. Due to the shutdown, there is nobody to give the OK for Sumner’s team.
Lockheed Martin, the logistics contractor for United States Antarctica Project, hasn’t received further funding and is forced to disassemble support. Lockheed Martin has also sent memos telling all American-backed researchers to suspend their work until further notice.
“I keep trying to put it in perspective; I keep telling myself that it’s not a health and safety issue” Sumner said. “But there is a huge amount of science research that’s really damaged by this. The Antarctic field season is such that a brief pause might mean us losing the whole year.”
If the government didn’t by Oct. 17, the United States would have had to default on its loans, losing its full faith and credit.
The debt ceiling was established in 1917 as part of the Second Liberty Bond Act. The bill served to finance the U.S. entry into World War I by allowing the government to take on more debt.
According to a 2008 report, “The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases” by government financial analyst D.A. Austin, a debt ceiling is a useful means for a government to remain in good standing with its lenders. It is the United States’ way of stating that it will only borrow a certain amount of money before it has to pay back the debt it has already incurred.
The Treasury Department pays back the debts in a constant cycle throughout the year using tax revenue. The issue this year is that the tax revenue did not match the amount of debt.
Another issue is the failure of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which instated yearly spending caps for Congress over the next decade. The end goal was successfully making $1.2 trillion in cuts.
A “supercommittee” consisting of Democrats and Republicans from both branches of Congress was to be appointed by Majority Speaker of the House John Boehner. Their job would be to decide where to find the income, whether it be from increased taxes, spending cuts, or entitlement reform.
Boehner did not appoint a committee, which resulted in cutting all discretionary spending by 8.2 percent.
Rep. John Garamendi, representing California’s 3rd District (including Davis) and former Deputy Secretary of the Interior during the Clinton Administration has experienced two of the longest government shutdowns in U.S. history.
Garamendi endorses raising the debt ceiling for at least a year, as it will provide stability and deeper understanding of the problems the government is facing.
“The Tea Party is dominating the discussion and driving their radical agenda,” Garamendi said. “The Tea Party has no solution, and we are coming up against another potential crisis … the United States of America cannot allow itself to lose its full faith and credit.”
Garamendi also said that laws don’t always start out perfect, and that they should be changed through normal legislative channels, not by trying to force a hand.
Importance of education
Garamendi emphasized the importance of the phase most are in right now: formal education.
“Our nation prospers with economic growth when key investments are made, the most important of which is education … [it] is the first rung on the success ladder,” Garamendi said.
The Federal Department of Education was unreachable for an interview; only six percent DOE employees were deemed “essential” to keep the department running.
Budget decisions being made now by the federal government will have long-lasting effects for the next decade.
“Even if they [students] don’t feel like the issue directly affects them, it does,” Banks said. “It affects all of us.”
VALENTINA NAKIC can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.