A collective sigh of relief

Oct. 17, 2013 @ 05:45 PM

Across the Triangle, as throughout the country, those upended by the federal government shutdown began to stumble back to normal Thursday.

Environmental Protection Agency workers and other federal employees -- or employees elsewhere whose jobs were funded by federal contracts, in many cases -- were back at their desks and lab benches.

The Internal Revenue Service was answering the phones again. Social Security offices reopened.  In one of the perhaps closest brushes with serious disruption here, subsidies for child care for several hundred youngsters were restored hours before officials said they would run out.

“It is with much relief that I am writing this letter to let you know that childcare subsidies have been restored to their original funding,” Michael Becketts, director of the county’s Department of Social Services, wrote to providers early Thursday.

As Becketts pointed out, Durham County Commissioners had allocated $234,000 to offset the cutoff of fund in some areas. “We [Durham County Government] made plans to help support some of our services, but childcare services supports were among those facing interruption effective Friday,” Becketts wrote.

It is hard to see an upside to the two-week long government shutdown, with its cascading impact on countless agencies, businesses and ordinary citizens.  We felt all along that the tactics of a tea-party influenced segment of House Republicans were wrong -- a view shared by many of their fellow party members, especially in the more sober U. S. Senate. There, two old, wary adversaries, minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada, finally waded in and forged a deal at well past the 11th hour.

Ultimately, not only were the tactics petulantly disruptive they were – as McConnell and other forthright conservatives such as John McCain of Arizona knew from the start – futile.

We’re relieved that the impact did not become, as it was on the cusp of, even more devastating, especially with the prospect narrowly avoided of a government default.

But for furloughed workers, frustrated tourists, angry veterans, worried food-aid recipients and all those parents and kids biting their nails over child-care subsidies, it was an unnecessarily wrenching fortnight.

We wish this mess were behind us for another year, at least, but it’s not.

"They didn't solve anything by this," concluded Katie Dodds, an Oklahoma City tourist who has been cooling her heels with her husband in Philadelphia, waiting for monuments and national parks to reopen.  The temporary agreement in Congress funds the government only through Jan. 15 and gives it the borrowing authority it needs only through Feb. 7.

"The worst part is they'll do it again in January and February," Dodds lamented.

That is sad, but true. We can only hope that cooler heads prevail from the start as we near those deadlines, and we’re spared another budgetary cliffhanger.

We’ll save that kind of suspense for the college basketball season.