WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congressional Republicans’ threatened federal government shutdown is already costing U.S. taxpayers money and it has not even happened yet, budget experts said on Tuesday.
Whether or not the party’s conservative Tea Party faction forces a shutdown this week, there are real costs to discussing and preparing for the possibility of one, they said.
Making shutdown plans during the workday diverts federal workers from other tasks that then have to be put off, which costs time and money, said Yvonne Jones, a director at the Government Accountability Office, a non-partisan congressional watchdog. Jones wrote a report on the 2013 shutdown’s costs.
The Office of Management and Budget last week said “prudent management” meant federal agencies would be planning ahead for a possible Sept. 30 shutdown deadline by identifying which programs should be kept open and how to fund them.
The prolonged threat of a shutdown hurts staff morale, Jones said, further decreasing worker productivity. She said agencies have expressed concern over how much negativity the threat of a shutdown brought, even if it never happened.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, called lost productivity a “hidden cost” that does not explicitly show up in the budget.
Federal workers “are living their lives in fear of having everything disrupted,” he said.
The 16-day government shutdown in 2013 cost more than $2 billion, according to an Office of Management and Budget analysis. Much of that was compensation to employees paid not to work for a combined 6.6 million days.
The shutdown also made a small dent in the economy’s growth rate, the Bureau of Economic Analysis found.
On Tuesday, lawmakers were working to avoid another expensive shutdown, which conservative Republicans have threatened if Congress does not cut off federal funds for the women’s healthcare group Planned Parenthood.
A perennial target for Republicans because a small part of its services includes abortions, Planned Parenthood recently was attacked in a series of videos. Produced and posted online by anti-abortion activists, the videos alleged Planned Parenthood improperly sells aborted fetal tissue. The healthcare group denies the allegations and calls the videos deceptive.
Senator Ted Cruz on Monday denounced Republican leadership’s willingness to compromise with Democrats to avoid a shutdown, calling it “preemptive surrender.”
In an hour-long speech in the Senate, the Republican presidential candidate said a shutdown would prove to voters that Republican leadership will fight for conservative values.
Reporting by Megan Cassella; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Nick Zieminski