The prospect of a federal government shutdown has dominated media headlines and political banter here in Washington over the past two weeks. But for reporters without a background in finance or accounting, following the shutdown saga is like reading a novel in a foreign language. This morning Hamdhoon Rashad, Danielle Alberti and I attended a workshop sponsored by the National Press Foundation, The Center on Congress at Indiana University and POLITICO to learn more about the developing situation.Thomas S. Kahn minority chief of staff of the House Budget Committee, Austin Smythe, Republican staff director of the House Budget Committee and Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, were the panelists. POLITICO Congressional Bureau Chief Martin Kady moderated the discussion.
Kahn and Smythe were optimistic a deal will be cut in the next week, while MacGuineas was not as sure. Smythe stressed more cuts must be made to satisfy Republicans. Kahn said the Tea Party Republicans are an “unknown factor” that could complicate negotiations. If a shutdown happens, national parks and museums would close, acquiring visas and passports would take longer and government assistance to veterans would be delayed. The military, postal service and airport security would continue to function.
The panel gradually shifted from discussing a government shutdown to a discussion about broader budget issues such as health care, tax and entitlement reforms. They all stressed how the prospect of a government shutdown is part of a longer term budget issue.
The panel was a rare instance of Capitol Hill insiders engaging in a calm and controlled debate. When the panelists agreed on an issue, they joked they would start singing “Kumbaya.” It was quite different from the Senate Budget Committee hearing I attended last week when Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., raised his voice in frustration at the committee’s Republicans and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said President Barack Obama’s budget is designed to “lose the future.”