Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
It feels a little like watching the ball drop in Times Square on New Year's Eve—only, everyone's dreading midnight. The government shutdown is mere hours away. Those hardest hit will be federal employees, who won't see their paychecks for a while. For the rest of us, here are ten things that will experience turbulence if and when the government shuts down.
Museum closings are a relatively minor inconvenience for tourists in the city, considering the staggering amount of stuff there is to do. Elsewhere, in local economies more dependent on their museums for tourism revenue, the picture is more grim.
What's more, there are only two federally funded museums in New York City: The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and the George Gustav Heye Center of the National Museum of the American Indian. Countless others that don't rely on D.C. dollars will remain open—MoMa, the Guggenheim, and the Museum of Natural History, to name a few.
Tourists will still have plenty of options for whatever they're into. And there's one potential upside here: If New York restaurants and bars are smart, they will have government shutdown specials starting tomorrow.
Almost five decades in the workforce, and you've finally made it: Retirement age.
Unfortunately, you didn't have the foresight to be born at another time of the year. April babies hitting 65 this year may have to hold off on applications for Social Security and Medicare for the duration of a shutdown. Seniors already on the entitlement rolls will still get their benefits, but newcomers could be out of luck for an indefinite period of time. Patience is a virtue—the most unsatisfying virtue of them all.
You picked a horrible time to visit the nation's capital. All those beautiful monuments, so close and yet so far. With the Smithsonian shuttered too, D.C. is a ghost town. You'd while away the weekend in a dive bar, but you've got your children with you.
To top it all off, Washington is filthy. Trash collection services stop because the House of Representatives has oversight of city services, and waste management is another one of those "non-essential services."
But chin up! Perhaps there's a solution to both your boredom and the garbage. Why not grab a trash bag and take the kids on a field trip to John Boehner's house? If you blame the Democrats, look up Harry Reid's address instead.
You've always wanted to go to Paris, and 2011 is your year. You and your husband have planned the romantic getaway of a lifetime: Two weeks of Summer in the City of Lights. You've got your plane tickets booked and hotel reservations made and everything. You are so on top of things.
Except your passport, which you forgot expired last year. It's not the end of the world—passport processing usually takes six to eight weeks, and your vacation isn't for months. But if the government shuts down, the employees who handle your paperwork go home. Your application sits idle until Democrats and Republicans compromise. Cross your fingers that happens in time for you to catch your plane.
Filing your taxes by paper this year could be a blessing or a curse. Online filers face IRS business as usual—timely refunds and audits, should you be so lucky or unfortunate, respectively. But paper filers will have to wait a little longer for their checks to arrive in the mail, or for the hammer to come down.
But we at It's a Free Country know that our lovely readers got their taxes squared away eons ago, didn't they?
Health services and benefit payments continue uninterrupted, but veteran hiring, training, and recruitment activities will halt. That likely means former servicemen and -women won't get as much assistance finding a job. Great for the unemployment rate—and our conscience.
Yeah, they're probably going to find a way to get soldiers their paychecks, even during the shutdown. It looks really bad for politicians when they don't support the troops.
The American dream will have to wait for some Americans. The Federal Housing Administration, which guarantees 30 percent of all mortgages, won't be able to keep it up during a shutdown. You'll be putting up with your landlord for a few more weeks.
Nothing pulls the United States out of a financial panic faster than freezing loans for startup companies that want to hire people and give them money. With the Small Business Administration's loan program on hold, expect the shutdown to "impact our economic momentum."
All of which brings us to the biggest thing a government shutdown will screw up for you and everyone else if...
Yes, between the potential hits to local revenue from tourism, tax revenue from tourism, veteran employment, home buying and business starting—all on top of the near-one million federal employees who won't be getting paid for a while, and will spend less money therefore—the government shutdown could really mess with our fragile economic recovery.
Just what the country needs.