The quads were not yet a year old and Megan and the older kids and I were all still snugly ensconced at the in-laws, returning to our little townhouse just once or twice a week, and that only to check the mail.
We were well past those early post-natal weeks of shift-work in which John, Luke, Amy, Kerry and I would take the late night feeding and Megan and her Mom and/or Dad would take the middle of the night/pre-dawn session. Indeed, come Christmas season, the quads were more-or-less sleeping through the night. It was a peaceful time, and, as ever, I was in full holiday mode and looking forward to a few days off with the family.
I was working at the State Department at the time, and, in all honesty, I really wasn’t paying all that much attention to the crescendo of doom-and-gloom talk about a Government shut-down. The fiscal year had ended in September with no new budget agreed and the Government had been running on a temporary “Continuing Resolution” since, pending a full budget agreement. Hell, in November we’d fumbled through a mini-furlough in the absence of a CR extension so I figured that should’ve been enough to get the White House and Gingrich and his crew to come to terms.
And, yet, a week before Christmas, on December 19, they shut us down. All “non-essential” workers (a phrase which really put things in perspective) were furloughed and, similarly, all non-essential services (don’t get me started) were suspended. Perfect. Christmas-time. Home for the holidays. Good stuff.
But it didn’t stop. And we weren’t getting paid.
If we hadn’t been living with Grandma and Grandpa at the time it coulda got real hairy because the Government didn’t get around to re-opening shop until January 6, 1996 (a Saturday, strangely enough).
Except it didn’t.
That very evening, snow began to fall all along the East Coast. The Blizzard of 1996 was underway. Monday morning – January 8 - came and went with snow still falling, piling up as deep as four feet. Washington was paralyzed. There was no work to get back to…
Towards the third week of my holiday-with-no-end (truly appreciated though, trust me), I found myself digging trenches in chest high snow outside my in-laws garage. In a first-and-only experience for me, at the end of a long and aimless trench, I even got to carve out a little snow cave near the basketball hoop. Morgan and Brennan may have run in and out of it a time or two, but I think I enjoyed the project far more than they did.
But the streets were clearing, and a return to work was imminent.
Except it wasn’t.
On Friday the 12th we got hit by Round 2 of the blizzard, piling another foot or so of fresh powder on the already-graying heaps from the first punch.
We dug out – again – over the weekend. And yet, again, a return to work was delayed – just for one more day - by a freak warm spell Sunday that resulted in the roads in and around Washington running like Potomac tributaries.
All-in-all, it was almost a month off work. And, ultimately, those of us furloughed actually did get paid.
I look back on the whole experience with great fondness.
But America at that time was in the midst of a remarkable economic boom, blossoming around the at-that-time strange phenomenon we’ve now come to know and love as the Internet. While the shut-down and furloughs had a not insignificant economic impact (all quantified online somewhere by the Congressional Research Service), it was bearable, and, in fact, largely forgotten.
Today, America is in economic dire straits. Today, a shut-down and furlough would be a much more painful experience.
Barring some last minute deal, as of tomorrow, March 1, 2013 the “sequester” we’ve become rhetorically inured to over the last couple of months– already once-delayed - will go into effect, a result of the Government’s inability to agree a Fiscal Year 2013 budget.
What will this mean? Automatic budget cuts totaling well over $1 trillion over the next ten years. In 2013 alone, we’re talking about $85 billion in reductions.
How we got to this point aside, I would think that most reasonably-minded people would agree that we have been living beyond our means and some sort of change is necessary. This, it seems, is the change we will get.
In the context of the impending sequestration, Most Federal Agencies have in recent days or weeks referenced potential furloughs of as many as tens of thousands of employees for as long as weeks at a time, starting as soon as April.
But that’s just the beginning.
You see, in the absence of an agreed budget (which has not been unusual under the Obama Administrations), the U.S. is currently operating, again, under a Continuing Resolution – one which expires at the end of March. If there is no budget agreement before March 27 and/or no new or extended CR, the Government – for the first time since 1996 – will be unfunded. Shut down time.
This is not 1996. Shotgun sequestration-inspired furloughs will be hard-felt, but a Government-wide furlough bomb could be disastrous, not just for the individuals impacted, but for our still very precarious economy. Such will not be the stuff of fond extended holiday memories.
Yet, there is a ray of hope…
The spectre of a full Government shut-down, coupled with the pain of a few weeks of sequestration, might just be enough to get the White House and Congressional Republicans to align around a proper budget, which, in turn, could result in the agreement on and execution of well-thought-out and strategic budget cuts and disciplines rather than the blunt and automatic cuts of the sequester.
Fingers crossed. For everyone.