by Marc H. Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League
Based upon most of the punditry around the looming federal government shutdown, one might assume the only person with anything to lose is Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy.
Indeed, he and his cohort in the House are behaving as if McCarthy’s speakership, which he may have to defend if he doesn’t pander to extremists’ every whim, is the highest stake in their playground antics.
Largely missing from the public discussion – and completely absent from the House extremists’ debate — is the potentially devastating human cost of a shutdown.
Nearly seven million pregnant women, new mothers, and young children – including more than half of all newborns in the United States — who rely on Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children will lose access to a source of healthy foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education.
Another 42 million Americans risk losing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
At least 10,000 preschool children will be denied the education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services of Head Start and risk falling even further behind in school readiness.
Small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs will lose a vital source of funding as the Small Business Administration is blocked from accepting, reviewing, or approving new business loans. American small businesses would lose out on more than $100 Million in critical financing every day of the shutdown. Furthermore, a shutdown would delay the issuing of licenses and certifications that small businesses need to operate.
Infrastructure projects that provide employment, stimulate local economies, and rectify historical and structural inequities would grind to a halt.
The last three government shutdowns cost taxpayers at least $3.7 billion in back pay to furloughed federal workers, and at least $338 million in other costs associated with the shutdowns, including extra administrative work, lost revenue, and late fees on interest payments.
The 2018-2019 shutdown precipitated by then-President Trump’s thin-skinned response to criticism from television commentators slowed the nation’s economic growth, reducing real GDP by $11 billion over the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019.
Meanwhile, the only major credit rating agency that still assigns the United States a top grade has warned that a shutdown “would underscore the weakness of US institutional and governance strength relative to other Aaa-rated sovereigns.” A downgrade to the US credit rating would drive up interest rates for all Americans.
Either the extremists in Congress who are driving the nation toward pointless chaos and hardship don’t understand the consequences of their actions, or they do understand and don’t care. Either case is horrifying.
Even more horrifying, there is no coherent public policy agenda behind their reckless behavior. Antagonizing their political adversaries and fanning the flames of partisan hostility is their only aim.
If Speaker McCarthy cannot use his leadership position to steer the nation away from an avoidable disaster, there is no point in his clinging to it.
Marc H. Morial is President and CEO of the National Urban League. He was a Louisiana State Senator from 1992-1994, and served as mayor of New Orleans from 1994 to 2002. Morial is an Executive Committee member of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Black Leadership Forum and Leadership, and is a Board Member of both the Muhammad Ali Center and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.