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How the Government Shutdown Affects Real People

What the hell is wrong with our elected officials – all of them? Since the Saturday before Christmas our federal government is in a “partial” shutdown. With all due respect, this is ridiculous.


It’s a common perception that this shutdown, like others, is really no big deal. Essential government services continue. Social Security checks will still go out. Air traffic is unimpaired. Even the government employees who are “furloughed” because they are “non-exempt” will get paid down the road. No one is really hurt - so the line goes - meaning the politicians can posture and preen. What great moral courage they show. Not.


Let me give you an example of how this impacts real people – and my example is quite personal. Our law firm represents medical malpractice plaintiffs in cases against the federal government. The bulk of our cases involve the VA. As the VA was funded earlier, it is not shut down. That’s good because our administrative claims (matters where we have not filed suit) should continue to move along. However, if we settle one of these matters while the shutdown is still going on, our clients (and we) can’t get paid because the entity that actually makes the payment, the Treasury Department Judgment Fund, is shutdown. For our cases in litigation, the Assistant United States Attorneys are all furloughed. Those cases will be delayed, meaning our clients (and we) end up being delayed as to any settlement or trial. Those AUSA’s will get paid as soon as the government “re-opens.” The rest of us wait.


In our firm’s vaccination injury practice we see a similar situation. The operation is funded by a government trust fund so, in theory, it is not shutdown. However, the court where all these matters are pending, the Court of Federal Claims, is closed. Again, our clients’ cases are delayed, meaning their payments are delayed.


Maybe you have no sympathy for law firms and our clients, but what about healthcare providers? Medicare covers a huge chunk of healthcare in our country and for many medical practices it is a significant part of their business. While it appears that the shutdown will not have an immediate impact on healthcare payments, if it goes on much longer it will. Payments will stop. Over 65% of CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services) employees are furloughed. Physician practices and hospitals are businesses too. They have to make payroll just like anyone else – and if they cannot it will not only be doctors who get hurt.


I could offer many more examples, such as businesses with government contracts. They don’t get paid – and I suspect that in many instances it will not get made up later. Those employees, most of whom are not high flyers, will suffer. Our clients are real people. We are a business. We are hurt. We and our clients are far from an isolated example.


Members of Congress get paid when the government is shutdown. Their staff will get paid later. I assume the same is true in the White House. This means that no one close to the characters posturing about is likely to be hurt, unlike many others. Maybe we should have a simple rule: If the government shuts down, all of Congress, its staff and the White House (the President and his staff) don’t get paid. And I mean don’t get paid at all while the government is closed. If the shutdown lasts 10 days, well, that is 10 days of income gone. You might argue that if you do that, then who would ever want to work for Congress or the White House. People need and expect reliable income. That is exactly my point. If any of our leadership actually had to experience the real consequences of their actions, they might think twice before “standing firm” on some nebulous “moral high ground.”