Sunday, April 10, 2011

the shutdown showdown

This is the picture I was hoping to find when I was having a particularly grumpy day last Friday. I think it is hilarious.  No one quite remembers why my sister and I looked so ticked (although maybe it was those shoes?), but we look like someone just told us we had to give up all our barbies or something.  

I'm glad I didn't find it last week, because it's a far more appropriate photographic summary of my feelings on the government shutdown showdown than anything that was going on last week.  

I don't know how many of you live outside of DC/VA/MD, and subsequently how much news coverage the potential government shutdown received in your town (although I'd love to know--comment!).  In the news (print, radio, tv) here, it was ALL ANYONE TALKED ABOUT FOR DAYS.  

It was also all anyone talked about at work (and away from work). Nothing productive was accomplished--it was like the day before summer break around my office for at least a week.  

Will it happen? How long will it last?  If they don't introduce the new budget by Tuesday, they won't have time to vote on it...  Will I be deemed "essential?"  How will I pay my rent?  What will I do if I can't work and all the museums are shut down? (ok, maybe it was just me asking that one)

I think the significance of a shutdown was/is lost on a lot of people outside of Washington.  

Setting aside your political opinions, your ideas that all federal government employees are lazy and overpaid, think about what you would do if you unexpectedly lost your income indefinitely, and with very little prospect of backpay?

Just because Congress can't compromise, life, and more importantly, expenses, go on.  To know that you have to sit on your hands at home, and eventually dip in to your savings to pay the rent and the bills, is frightening.  I know that I personally had a "danger zone"--the point at which I'd no longer be able to pay rent if the government was shut down.  And compared to most people I work with, my bills are practically non-existent.  I have no debt, no kids, no real responsibilities. 

I remember watching the news and seeing some slightly extremist congressman surrounded by supporters with crazy signs.  At the end of his speech, he said "if the other side doesn't want to compromise, I SAY SHUT IT DOWN" and everyone behind him cheered wildly.  I would be shocked if those people were anything but tourists.  

No one I know in the government, Republican or Democrat, wanted it to shut down. It is, simply put, a massive undertaking full of uncertainty and questions.  

Can you imagine all the things you would need to wrap up if you knew that as of midnight, it would become illegal for you to touch your work Blackberry?  email? any work at all? (note: it is illegal for one to incur any expense while in a non-pay status) What in the world should your out-of-office say?  (one coworker suggested "I will be back in the office when Congress passes the budget and successfully completes the ONE task they are legally bound to undertake each year")

Friday was one of the busiest days I've had in recent memory. I left work later than I normally ever do (and especially late for a Friday).  I had guests coming over to celebrate a friend's birthday, so I didn't really have much time to process my impending "unemployment."  We all talked about it a bit at dinner, but everyone here is pretty weary of it, so we quickly moved on to birthday celebrations. 

Later that night, sitting at a booth at a bar, one of my friends said "so, how do you know that it's officially shut down?" and it just so happened to have just struck midnight.  We decided to check the news to make it official.  

I nearly dropped my Blackberry when I saw the headline that a deal had been struck.  

Not that I was over the moon about an indefinite break from work... But I had spent the entire past week hearing of nothing but the shutdown.  I had spent Wednesday and Thursday trying to concentrate on work as we received conflicting guidance that put everyone in a tizzy.  I spent Friday frantically wrapping things up. By the time midnight rolled around, I was no longer in denial about the situation, and had gotten to the point that I was optimistic about what I could accomplish in my personal life while it was illegal for me to touch work. 

The total 180 by congress threw us all for a loop, but it was a welcome last-minute compromise (although I will be singing a very different tune if we're facing yet another shut down next Friday)

Naturally we celebrated the news by dancing the rest of the night.  

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