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COMMENTARY: Hazy days, indeed

By Jeff Cota

After the federal government came to a standstill for 16 days, it’s reasonable for Americans to expect that lawmakers accomplished something.

National parks are open, government workers are getting paid and, more importantly, the National Zoo’s Panda Cam is back. But, in truth, those really aren’t accomplishments as much as they are byproducts of restarting government.

So what did the shutdown achieve? In a word: uncertainty.

On most scorecards, President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats emerged atop of this political scrap heap we call Washington. Obama stuck to his hardline stance, surrendered virtually nothing, and Republicans caved.

“The compromise we reached will provide our economy with the stability it desperately needs,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

Yet, it’s a hollow victory at best. The stability that Reid speaks of is tenuous. The spending bill that Congress approved and Obama signed into law early Thursday is temporary. It only provides enough money for the government to operate until Jan. 15, and extends borrowing authority through Feb. 7.

“We’re probably going to have to go through this a few more times,” Bob Bixby of the bipartisan Concord Coalition, which advocates budget reforms, told The Associated Press.

As an added bonus, lawmakers have succeeded in angering and alienating voters.

“They didn’t solve anything by this,” Katie Dodds told the AP. The Dobbs family, who hail from Oklahoma City, got as far as Valley Forge, Pa., during their mission to visit every national park in the U.S. And then the federal government shut down. “The worst part is they’ll do it again in January and February.”

James Ulrich, an unemployed 19-year-old, got into line early Thursday outside the Pottsville, Pa., Social Security office. He needed to replace his lost Social Security card so he could apply for jobs. Ulrich was told he could expect a new card in two weeks.

“I don’t have a really good outlook on the government,” he said.

Meanwhile, key parts of the economy are falling victim to the shutdown.

Mortgage applications fell 5 percent last week. Retail stores saw a 0.7 percent decrease in sales. And car sales dropped 2 percent.

Beth Ann Bovino, an economist at Standard & Poor’s, told the AP that the shutdown cost the U.S. economy $24 billion. As a result, Bovino and other economists have downgraded their growth forecasts in the October-December quarter.

And with the temporary spending bill expiring in January, it remains to be seen what kind of long-term effect the shutdown will have on the economy.

“We may have dodged a bullet again, but we think these episodes cumulate,” said Robert DiClemente, chief U.S. economist at Citigroup. There’s a “risk that at some point investors throw up their hands and say, ‘This has gone too far.’”

At least we’re certain to have Panda Cam for the next few months.

Jeff Cota is copy editor of The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at jeff.cota@dailyreporter.com and follow him at Twitter.com/Jeff_Cota.

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