Ten years ago, during a 16-day shutdown, tourists stood outside locked gates at national parks and monuments. Kirtland and Holloman Air Force bases furloughed nearly 1,500 civilian employees. The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia closed, which delayed training for 350 agents sorely needed by the Border Patrol. The Department of Energy’s 1,000 Waste Isolation Pilot Plant employees kept working and got late paychecks, but a subcontractor that processed and shipped transuranic waste had to lay off 154 workers. At Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories 18,000 contractors lost money.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, a Tea Party member, said at the time, “At times, you must act on principle and not ask what cost, what are the chances of success.”
The costs were substantial. New Mexico ranked seventh among states most affected by the shutdown. Among other reasons, it was sixth in the number of federal employees per capita and fourth in federal contractors, according to WalletHub, a personal finance website.
Nationally, 850,000 federal employees were furloughed. Post offices, border checkpoints and federal law enforcement agencies were operating, but their employees didn’t see paychecks until after the shutdown ended. Small Business Administration offices closed and lending stalled. Banks couldn’t verify income data or Social Security numbers. The Bureau of Land Management furloughed 754 employees and stopped processing drilling permit applications.
Even so, Pearce opposed ending the shutdown because in his view underlying problems remained.
In the aftermath, economists said the shutdown took $24 billion out of the nation’s economy, consumer confidence fell, mortgage applications dropped, and economic recovery from the Great Recession slowed. Lost visitor income from shuttered national parks totaled some $500 million.
The Tea Party morphed into the Freedom Caucus. In July, Virginia’s Rep. Bob Good said on the Capitol steps: “We should not fear a government shutdown. Most of the American people won’t even miss it if the government is shut down temporarily.”
Where was he in 2013? Or 2018?
Five years ago, New Mexico was second in impacts, behind only Washington, D.C, according to WalletHub. The 2018-2019 partial shutdown lasted five weeks. It was the third shutdown under Trump, who demanded more money for his border wall.
In New Mexico the military and the national labs were funded, but 5,800 federal employees were furloughed or worked without pay. At departments with large footprints in New Mexico, such as the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “nonessential” employees were on unpaid leave. Tribal communities couldn’t count on the federal government for child care, road maintenance or help for needy families. In airports, TSA employees worked without pay, and some stopped showing up.
About 380,000 federal employees were furloughed, and another 420,000 worked unpaid. The shutdown reduced economic output by $11 billion for half the year, delayed more than $2 billion in loans to small businesses, and drove up freight rates (and consumer prices) because of delays at border crossings.
At this writing, with the House paralyzed by discord, another shutdown looms.
The Freedom Caucus is oblivious to economic impacts and financial hardships for families, but they might want to think about elections next year. Financial turmoil stays in the public memory, and shutdowns have not favored Republicans.
In New Mexico, Yvette Harrell is again running against Rep. Gabe Vasquez in Congressional District 2. In 2018 the House Freedom Fund, a political committee funded by the Freedom Caucus, endorsed her, according to the Associated Press. Herrell called the endorsement an affirmation of her values. She won her 2020 election and joined the Freedom Caucus.
If we have another shutdown, some of Yvette Herrell’s constituents will cheer, but how many? She can count on Democrats to inform voters of her ties to the Freedom Caucus and its impact on New Mexico’s economy.
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