Was the Shutdown a Bad Idea? Depends on Who You Ask.

How important is the federal government to cities? The farther away from Washington, D.C., the more difficult that question can be to answer – especially in Tea Party hotbeds.
October 23, 2013

How important is the federal government to cities? The farther away from Washington, D.C., the more difficult that question can be to answer – especially in Tea Party hotbeds like Texas and Indiana.

Though polling one week into this month’s government shutdown generally scored the move as a loss for Republicans, anger at the GOP was a little harder to come by in certain areas of the country, the National League of Cities’ executive director discovered on a trip this month. Although the NLC is a nonpartisan organization, Clarence Anthony’s aim was to get city leaders to push their national counterparts to end the shutdown. But that’s tough to do when the shutdown is linked to opposing Obamacare.

“I was surprised at how strong some of the local officials were in their displeasure about what was going on in Washington,” said Anthony in an interview this week. “And their concern was also that we were coupling these issues and we’re really not.”

Lobbying local official in Texas and Indiana about the importance of the federal government is a particularly tough task. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz played a key role in the attempt to defund Obamacare and prompting the government shutdown in the first place. And Indiana’s governor, Mike Pence, is a prominent Tea Party Republican who advocated for using a government shutdown as a strategy during the 2011 budget crisis.

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The farther away from the Capitol dome's shadow, the harder it is to convey to local governments that the federal government should stay open, Anthony said.

“There is a viewpoint that is not East Coast-centric – that the farther away from Washington, the better-off they are,” Anthony said. “And there is an unofficial mandate of, ‘Tell Washington to leave us alone.’”

But Anthony, whose trip also included North Carolina, counts the trip as a success. The length of the shutdown, ironically enough, helped. Two weeks of partially shuttered operations gave cities a chance to feel the trickle down effects of closed federal parks and lost tourism spending, government contractor furloughs and federally funded programs like Head Start began turning away kids. And with the possibility of another fiscal showdown after the New Year, the NLC wants to make sure its members can be counted on to encourage their national counterparts in Washington that another shutdown is not in anyone’s best interest. The league has lots of anecdotal evidence to support its stance but it also plans to collect hard data from members this November at its Congress of Cities conference in Seattle. Washington, D.C., for example, saw an 8 percent drop in its restaurant sales during the shutdown thanks to the tens of thousands of federal workers who weren’t commuting in to the city daily.

“We have to help our members get ready to talk to [congressional] members now to ask them to avert another shutdown,” Anthony said, “and to have them converse about the issues we’re concerned about.”

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