Avoiding the Unthinkable

For the second day in a row, 800,000 Americans have been forced to take unpaid leave, as the shutdown of parts of the United States government continues.

Jewish communities near the nation’s capital responded by setting up temporary kollelim — complete and interest-free loans and grants for local residents whose lives have been turned upside-down by the failure of the political leadership to reach a deal.

Long-planned vacations have been ruined as national parks and famous attractions have been shuttered; businesses that were already struggling have been robbed of desperately needed customers. The far-flung effects even reached France, where tourists were barred from the U.S. cemetery overlooking the D-Day beaches at Normandy, one of two dozen military cemeteries abroad that have been closed.

Even spy agencies have been affected: Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper told Congress that roughly 70 percent of the intelligence workforce — including the CIA and National Security Agency — have been furloughed, but he’s trying to keep enough people to guard against potential threats.

Call centers, hotlines and regional offices that help veterans understand their benefits are closed, and new applications for small business loans and loan guarantees have been immediately halted. Research into life-threatening diseases and other areas will stop, and new patients aren’t being accepted into clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health.

If the shutdown continues for an extended period, vital services that ensure seniors and young children access to healthy food and meals may not have sufficient Federal funds to serve all beneficiaries, and veterans’ compensation, pension, education, and other benefits could be cut off.

Anxious investors on both sides of the Atlantic expressed their concerns about the very real threat to the global economy posed by this shutdown, and U.S. and European stock markets fell Wednesday.

“The markets are sending a loud message to Washington lawmakers to get their act together and resolve the budget crisis,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital.

We fully agree.

The quarreling sides met at the White House Wednesday but showed little signs of progress, and Republicans and Democrats alike said the shutdown could last for two weeks or more, which would bring them up to an even more frightening deadline.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has informed Congress that unless lawmakers act in time, he will run out of money to pay the nation’s bills by Oct. 17. Congress must periodically raise the limit on government borrowing to keep U.S. funds flowing, but the once-routine matter has now become a bargaining chip in battles over the federal budget deficit.

The last time there was an impasse over the borrowing limit, in August 2011, it led to a downgrade of the United States’ credit rating by Standard & Poor’s and a plunge in the stock market.

Lew says that he has now begun using all the “extraordinary measures” at his disposal to avoid hitting the debt ceiling, but there are no other “legal and prudent” options for extending the borrowing authority after October 17.

While the government has shut down before, the United States has never defaulted throughout its history. But if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling by October 17, the damage this could cause to the United States’ economy is unimaginable, and the Treasury Department will be unable to pay Congress’s bills for what it has already allocated funds.

While it is likely that the politicians who have allowed us to get us into this mess in the first place will reach an agreement by then, that conclusion is far from foregone, and experts believe that each the two sides of the divide is  so desperate to achieve victory that they may allow America to tumble off this dangerous cliff. With each passing day the uncertainty and fear of the unknown is taking its toll on our still-fragile economy.

The American people need to let their voices be heard and make it clear to the elected officials on both sides of the aisle that this stalemate will not be tolerated. The shenanigans that have already negatively impacted so many hardworking citizens of this country must come to an immediate end. Congress and the president must come to a fair and reasonable agreement that would in the short term reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, and in the long term include much-needed changes to Obamacare.