Planning for the shut-down

What functions of the Federal government might reasonably be deemed “non-essential”? The design goal is to make a list that will deter the Teahadis from playing chicken.

What functions of the federal government that the Teahdis wouldn’t want shut down could reasonably be deemed non-essential? The rule, as I understand it, is that if shutting something down would immediately threaten life or property, it’s essential. Else, not.

The design problem is to come up with a list of shut-down targets legitimate under that definition and adverse enough to Republican interests to make the threat of a shutdown non-credible.

My #1 target so far is the air traffic control and airport-security operations of the FAA and the TSA. There’s no threat to life or property if the planes don’t take off. I don’t know how much it would cost Koch Industries and the other industrial paymasters of the Republican Party generally and the Tea Party specifically if air traffic were shut down for a week, but I bet those folks have enough power with the GOP to prevent us from finding out the hard way.

With an army in the field, keeping it fighting and keeping it supplied are obviously “essential.” (Again, I doubt the constitutionality of continuing to spend money on the army – as opposed, for example, to the navy – without an appropriation. But let that pass for the moment.)

But how much of the rest of DoD is actually “essential”? Recruiting? Other personnel actions, except those involving those in or going to the war zone? Public relations? Legislative affairs? The Blue Angels? The military bands?

Similarly, running the Federal prisons is essential. Those sentences are court orders, and the prisoners need to be guarded and fed. But can it really be said that a current investigation or prosecution is “essential for the protection of life and property”? I doubt it.

Your thoughts? And if anyone can point to the lists from last time, that would be helpful.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

41 thoughts on “Planning for the shut-down”

  1. The way to ‘win’ the shutdown is to make it about Social Security.

    The Democratic leadership should come out RIGHT NOW against any cuts to Social Security. Then when the shut down comes (and it will) just stop sending out Social Security checks. The media is already convinced that Social Security is behind the deficit so play to that weakness. As seniors start to get worried, repeat over and over again “We oppose all Republican cuts to Social Security”. Make Republicans either go on record as supporting every penny of Social Security benefits or pay the full price for any cuts. Once seniors start to fully express their outrage, negotiate a dem friendly compromise (on discretionary spending) and move on with Republicans dramatically weakened.

    Yes, I know that the current Republican budget doesn’t cut Social Security but that is beside the point. Republicans have made it perfectly clear that their only agenda is to crush liberalism as a political movement and are willing to be extraordinarily aggressive in accomplishing that goal. You can’t compromise with a revolutionary ideology. Democrats need to lay down clear markers which the public can recognize even through the current media environment. This has the advantage of both supporting their own goals and illustrating the incoherence of the Republican position.

  2. Social Security checks stop going out the day the government shuts down. The money is in the Trust Fund, but the folks who process the checks can’t come to work. That part is easy.

    Subsidies can always be paid after the government comes back on line.

  3. > There’s no threat to life or property if …


    Hell, there’s LESS threat to life or property if …

  4. Shut down the FDA. Evidence suggests that it kills more people by slowing medical progress than it saves by blocking harmful drugs anyway. Why, just the harm they did with their years long battle to stave off Folic acid supplementation to prevent spinal bifida was a horror.

    I sometimes think the most terrifying thing about a government shutdown, from a liberal perspective, is prospect that a lot of people might not notice it. And then might notice that they didn’t notice it… Fortunately politicians long ago learned to manage shutdowns so as to maximize immediate pain…

    “The money is in the Trust Fund, but the folks who process the checks can’t come to work”

    Really? I thought the line was that the SSA was independent from the government. Are the people who work there government employees, after all?

  5. The argument that ATC should continue is the (weak one) that the economy will continue as normal or property will be imperiled, so in turn flights must continue. The same (pitifully weak) reasoning led to the SSA people being recalled after a few days to deal with sending out checks in 1995-6. In short, the standards can be stretched (or contracted) as desired, within very broad limits. Of course, the Anti-Deficiency Act is rather terse and thus vague.

    Just stop all Federal spending in R districts. Let them sue. Call the R congressmen to testify.

  6. My memories of the last time is that the Reeps ‘lost’ the shutdown because they were far too cute about it, and the public decided they were gaming it and that it was their fault. My guess is that the side which will lose an upcoming shutdown, if one occurs, is the side seen to be gaming it. If the Reeps send a ten-per-cent-less across-the-board CR to the President and he vetoes it, he will lose. If the Reeps send a fancy CR which takes out public radio and their menu of other hated programs but leaves ethanol subsidies untouched, and Obama vetoes it, he will win. This is based only on my memory of public attitudes last time.

  7. Depending on the weather across the continent, corporate business jets could continue to operate under visual flight rules to/from non-controlled airports (although getting across the Rockies would cause some inefficient routes). The cannon fodder would be stuck, but the overlords would still be able to move around.


  8. “I thought the line was that the SSA was independent from the government.”

    You thought wrong. No surprise.

  9. Why are the “Teahadis” the ones responsible for a shutdown? The closest thing I’ve seen to a government shutdown of late is in Wisconsin, and it’s not the tea-party types or Republicans who are refusing to go to work or otherwise trying to prevent the government from operating.


  10. Second Mr Adler–there’s a continuing resolution to fund everything non-controversial on the table, and SFAIK it’s the Democrats, not the Republicans, who are refusing to pass it.

  11. Mark, I like how you’re thinking. There may be an argument for keeping airports open for life-saving operations—for example, so that donated organs can be flown from one hospital to another for emergency transplants. That just modifies your basic premise—shut down all air traffic control and airport security operations with the exception of maintaining skeleton crews necessary for the (very few) airport operations that are necessary to preserving human life.

    Likewise with the DOD—shut down all non-mission critical operations immediately and order an immediate halt to all non-mission critical procurement (e.g., ammunition, tanks, aircraft, basically all ongoing military-related manufacturing in the country).

  12. Why are the “Teahadis” the ones responsible for a shutdown?

    Because they’re the ones throwing a temper tantrum worthy of a roomful of two-year olds.

  13. @Brett: The original successful double-blind, randomized trial for folate supplementation conducted under the auspices of the British Medical Research Council was published in 1989 (n=1195). Results of a larger confirmatory trial were published in 1992 (n=4156). The FDA ordered folate supplementation of enriched grain products in 1996. As far as I can tell, the original smaller study was published in 1981, and folate supplementation was common practice by the time of the birth of my first child in 1984. So please, enlighten us on the FDA’s “years long battle to stave off folic acid supplementation to prevent spinal bifida.” As for the usefulness of the FDA, I offer Frances Oldham Kelsey as an example of what might happen again if we do away with the FDA.

  14. I’m not sure being seen to be gaming the shutdown is necessarily a losing position. I thought Clinton was gaming the last time, with his silly closure of national parks, and he certainly won big.

    If you’re going to shut it down, shut it down. Total apocolypse, with a few exceptions like feeding and guarding the federal prisoners. A war can’t be switched off the first day, but let people see the generals ordered to begin withdrawal immediately, for real. No federal cops on the beat. Close the border crossings for lack of Customs personnel, but stop patrolling for illegal crossers. Medicare stops paying its bills. Let the public get a good look at what the Republicans are playing with.

  15. What I’d do (very, very wink-wink, with nothing written down), is to arrange for the shut-down to cause maximum pain to the Teabaggers first, and then to independent voters, accompanied by a good propaganda campaign.

  16. It should be pointed out that Obama will be officially above the fray. It won’t be the case that an unacceptable CR comes to him and he vetoes it (as it was with Clinton). The Senate won’t pass an unacceptable CR. So there will be rival CRs from each chamber, neither willing to pass the other’s.

    This might enable Obama, if he wishes, to take a maximalist position on what a shutdown means.

    I actually don’t believe there will be a shutdown. I believe there will be a short term CR passed while the House and Senate negotiate and then another and then another …. I know the Speaker has said he will not move a short term CR, but I assume that’s just a negotiating tactic, like walking away from your car salesman.

  17. I have a series of questions for you, Mr. Adler. Brett Bellmore can join in, too, if he’d like.

    1) Am I correct that Walker’s budget in Wisconsin would immediately slash wages and benefits for state workers?
    2) Am I also correct that the wage and benefit levels were negotiated and agreed to in a signed and legal contract?
    3) Am I not also correct that it is usually a libertarian talking point that contracts are important to the functioning of society and that they need to be honored?

    Why are the “Teahadis” the ones responsible for a shutdown? The closest thing I’ve seen to a government shutdown of late is in Wisconsin, and it’s not the tea-party types or Republicans who are refusing to go to work or otherwise trying to prevent the government from operating.

    4) Is it not the case that the government of the state of Wisconsin is attempting to operate in breach of a signed contract?
    5) Given that, isn’t it the right of the workers that would be affected to stop working given that the other party to their employment contract is trying to breach that contract? In fact, isn’t not only their right, but also the thing that libertarians should support under the situation?

  18. J. Michael Neal –

    Accepting all your premises, I don’t see how this would justify the anticipatory breach (refusing to work in expectation that the government will breach) or the position that the government workers can refuse to work, but not lose their jobs, particularly if (as I believe is the case) public employees in Wisconsin are not allowed to strike. If Wisconsin violates the valid contractual rights of state workers, as provided for under state law, I would surely support their right to seek remedies in court.

    That said, I am not sure I accept all of your premises. Government contracts are not always held to the same standards as contracts between private parties. I may wish it were otherwise, but it’s not. Among other things, governments are often given greater leeway to revise contractual terms due to sovereign interests, and this may include a reserved right of the legislature to make across the board compensation adjustments. In the case of Wisconsin, I don’t know enough about state law on the subject, but I would be surprised if the proposed budget would constitute a breach of contract. State governments may limit the force of public employee contracts through statute. Again, however, if there were a breach under applicable law, I would support the right of those harmed to seek legal redress, but not the right to call off work with fake doctors’ notes without legal consequences.


  19. Crickets. How predictable.

    And how perfectly in concert w/ the dominant meme-tactic of the post-Reagan wrong:

    “Ha! I have you now, America-hating scum! Just a short, shape stab of Principle, a quick twist…and Oh! Look at the time! I had no idea. I’ll be back – and ’til then, please have the good grace to remember that if I’d posted, I’d have won. Therefore, I win.”

  20. I can end the government shutdown in 12 syllabes…

    Quit running background checks on new gun purchases.

    The resulting wailing will cause otalgia…
    Or like Twain said about that opera he heard in Italy: I haven’t heard anything like that since the orphanage burned down….

  21. Neal, you’re right, the Wisconsin government should respect those contracts, and instead clawback (I believe that’s the term, right?) the pay with a special, targetted tax on government employees.

  22. Brett: Still waiting for your evidence on the FDA and folate supplementation. And your definition of “fairly minor budget cuts” from the previous thread would be useful, too. I’m just trying to understand, and being a member of the reality-based community I can be convinced of the error of my ways by good evidence. It happens all the time.

  23. KLG, the FDA’s side of the matter, which curiously omits this and this and this. Don’t mention this, either, or this…. Or even this.

    The FDA spent years on a losing legal battle to prevent the connection between folic acid and spinal bifida from being publicized, pursuing the repeatedly rejected claim that any health claim they didn’t give prior approval to constituted fraud. The spent a lot of money trying to keep the American people ignorant.

  24. Amusingly, I’m listening at this very moment to a TV ad for a woman’s vitamin pill, to be taken during the “reproductive years”, with folate. Running the commercial would have had the FDA trying to put you in prison prior to the above line of cases.

  25. Okay, Brett, now you are just getting ridiculous. And still not answering the question. Besides there would have been no reason to advertise folate supplementation for women during their “reproductive years” prior to the above line of cases, by which I assume you mean the relevant clinical trials. Note to self: Stop feeding the trolls, even the long-standing ones.

  26. Um, Charles, I respect your google fu, but that was my first link… 😉 KLG, didn’t follow the links? The “the cases” were legal cases where people repeatedly tried to advertise folate supplementation for women during their “reproductive years”, and the FDA kept trying to stop them. And kept getting slapped down by the courts, only to try again. It was part of the same legal battle where the FDA tried, for years, to prevent anyone from selling low dose asprin to help prevent strokes.

    The simple fact is, the FDA does have a record of obstructing medical progress, which is why there are a variety of cutting edge medical treatments you have to go abroad to get. Back when I lived in Michigan, a local boy accidentally got shot in the heart with a nail gun, causing heart disease. He was restored to health with an experimental stem cell treatment. The doc who did it got driven out of the country, and is now advancing the field somewhere in Asia.

    But enough on the FDA. You can manage a shutdown to minimize public suffering, or to maximize it. Executives desiring larger budgets generally do the latter, which is why it’s a dangerous move for a legislative party to risk a shutdown. But, none the less, if there is a shutdown, it will be as much the work of the Democrats as the Republicans; As I say, it takes two to play chicken.

  27. Brett–I’m not seeing your links. (I’m sure they’re supposed to be there, but I can’t find them.)

    can end the government shutdown in 12 syllabes…Quit running background checks on new gun purchases.

    Please–be my guest. (If a check isn’t returned in a specified time, it’s an automatic pass.)

  28. You can understand why the FDA is very conservative when it comes to approving new drugs. If they drag their feet on or block the approval of drugs that could save 10’s of thousands of lives, they get criticized by policy wonks in various libertarian publications and other places most people don’t pay much attention to. But, if they approve a drug that causes obvious harm like birth defects, it’s front page news.

  29. Mark Kleiman’s comment got it almost right. The government should stop Social Security checks sent to districts represented by Republican representatives. Let the square-jawed Galtians get along without their welfare checks.

  30. Well, yes, I can understand it. Bad incentives make for bad behavior. They don’t, however, make the bad behavior good.

    International comparisons have demonstrated that countries with less restrictive drug approval than our’s do not suffer an excess of bad drugs being approved. Frankly, I think we should kill off the FDA, and just automatically approve of any drug that’s approved in a laundry list of other developed countries. Why spend money on a duplication of efforts? Because we’ve got money to burn?

    KLG, my comment with the links has been disappeared, it was immediately prior to the one refering to the TV advertisment. Apparently somebody with editorial control thinks only the FDA’s side was worth linking to… Google Pearson v. Shalala.

  31. Brett, I’ll look it up. Thanks.

    As for this: “Frankly, I think we should kill off the FDA, and just automatically approve of any drug that’s approved in a laundry list of other developed countries. Why spend money on a duplication of efforts? Because we’ve got money to burn?” One answer is sufficient: Thalidomide. Btw, I am aware that this drug now has uses other than as a tranquilizer for pregnant women. But that is not how it was marketed in the late 1950s in those other developed countries. Maybe this cannot happen again, but it surely did 50 years ago. And maybe you believe the 10,000-20,000 horrific birth defects associated with thalidomide were worth it.

    Your anecdote about stem cell therapy saving the child with the nail in the heart is just that. And only that. There are fly-by-night purveyors of stem cell therapy all over the globe. And in Las Vegas, from what I have heard. Is there great potential in embryonic and adult stem cell therapy? Of course. And probably a lot more than for gene therapy. It would be nice if your erstwhile political allies would see the light and permit the necessary basic and clinical research on embryonic stem cells here, with public money.

    Looked it up. The first sentence of the decision sums it up pretty well. “Dietary supplement marketers Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw, presumably hoping to bolster sales by increasing the allure of their supplements’ labels, asked the FDA to authorize four separate health claims.” Good for Pearson and Shaw that Silberman was there to write the opinion for them. I will not be shocked when a similar decision reinstates Radithor as a legitimate patent medicine because, after all, it is an undeniable tonic, for a while.

  32. As Mr. Neal says above, the issue in Wisconsin isn’t the money; as I understand it the unions have already agreed to the pension & benefit contributory adjustments demanded by the Governor. The issue is stripping the public employee unions of the right to engage in collective bargaining about these matters in the future. Pretty obvious that the GOP doesn’t want to negotiate anything with anybody; they want an unorganized, fearful labor force down whose throats anything can and will be jammed.

  33. KLG: Have any of the other developed countries suffered a Thalidomide scale disaster since, that the FDA averted? Once you’ve got one effective FDA analog in the world, what are the others doing, that isn’t redundant?

  34. (If a check isn’t returned in a specified time, it’s an automatic pass.)

    Should have guessed that.
    The NRA is a strong union.
    They’ve won some wonderful concessions for their due-paying members.

  35. Yeah, and the government not being able to abolish a constitutional right by simply shutting off a computer is such an outrageous concession. If it weren’t for that clause, the national instant check system would simply stop functioning whenever there was a Democrat in the White House, and I suppose that does piss off people who think that would be good.

    But one correction: If you’re not an NRA member, you still get to buy a gun when the instant check system is shut off.

  36. SamChevre,

    The Republicans are the ones defining what is allegedly “non-controversial”, so the game is rigged. I’m sure I can find plenty that I call controversial in their CR, too.

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