News & Politics

Welcome to the Shutdown

It's a beautiful day for an absence of government activity.

This is as close as you can get right now to the Lincoln Memorial. Photograph by Flickr user Wayan Vota.

We could all use a day off, and with clear skies, a gentle fall breeze, almost no chance of precipitation, today sounds like a perfect day to head downtown, and take in the—oh, right.

The icing on this unpalatable shutdown cake Congress served up last night is that the hundreds of thousands of workers—many of whom reside in the Washington area—thrown out of their offices on unpaid leave, not to mention the countless tourists who flock to our city every day, can’t enjoy their free days in DC. With the Smithsonian shuttered, the National Zoo is off-limits. Need a panda fix? Too bad; the panda cam went dark this morning.
Same goes for all national parks. While people around Washington will have to go without the monuments and Rock Creek Park, tourists throughout the United States won’t be able to access federal public lands. That’s a rough break on the 123rd anniversary of Yosemite National Park, which is the subject of a Google Doodle that is either horribly timed or exquisitely ironic.
More seriously, the closing of large parts of the federal government will have harsh effects on the regional economy. Some projections have the Washington area bracing for a $200 million daily hit between lost wages, consumer spending, and tax revenue. Other estimates are lower, but the DC government is still forecasting a weekly loss of between $1 million and $6 million as long as the feds are closed.
As for the DC government, though, that’s open, in spite of the District having its budget subject to federal oversight and thus threatened with being shut down. Last week, after Mayor Vince Gray declared that all 32,000 city employees are “essential,” the city elected to tap its emergency cash reserves, which should finance local services for the next two weeks. Garbage will be collected on time, libraries will remain open, and yes, no matter how much you tweet to the contrary, you can get a parking ticket.
For furloughed workers who need low-cost activities to fill the day, Best Bites has an expanding list of local bars and restaurants are running specials for people who show a federal employee ID. Among the offerings, $1 Stella Artois at Marvin on U St., NW, starting at noon, and free hamburgers at all Z-Burger locations are particularly tempting.
But the shutdown news isn’t all bad, least of all for the 50 million Americans who don’t have health insurance. Though Congress pushed the government into a shutdown over House Republicans’ opposition to the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 law is already funded, and the insurance exchanges created by the law are open. The exchanges in the District and Maryland, as well as the federal exchange Virginia residents will use, are all online and taking customers today.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.