Government shutdown: Not so bad


Photo of President Obama (Image from the White House Flickr)

This story was originally covered by PRI's The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.

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President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have both warned against a government shutdown. Speaker Boehner is calling for bigger budget cuts, while President Obama is calling for "a reasoned, fair conversation between the parties."

"I think the effects of a shutdown are overestimated," James Miller III, director for the Office of Management and Budget from 1985 to 1988. Miller worked through two government shutdowns, and he says, "everyone knows that when you go home, you'll probably be back to work the next day."

Even if the appropriations bill expires, Miller points out that "the attorneys general have opined that you actually keep the government running until 2:00 pm the next day, and it's only at 2pm if the congress and the president don't act that you act that you actually send people home."

If people do get sent home, it's not as though the entire government ceases to work. "Keep in mind that the essential services continue," Miller says, "it's only the so-called 'non-essential services' that are shutdown... The Department of Defense continues to work, the policemen continue to work, the air traffic controllers continue to work."

"The politicians and the people in the administration get all upset and riled up about it," Miller says, but it's not as bad as people think. During his time at the OMB, Miller remembers getting upset as a government shutdown loomed. At that point, President Reagan took him aside and said: "Jim, just settle down. Let's close 'er down and see if anybody notices."

The stakes seem to be higher today than they were in the past, Miller acknowledges. And the numbers being negotiated are bigger. That's why Miller says, "I suspect, if there's a shutdown, it, may actually last a little bit longer -- and I mean by that a couple of days or three days rather than a few hours or for one day."


"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.