WASHINGTON -- A Democratic senator from one of the states hit hardest by the recent government shutdown has called on Congress' investigative arm to calculate the economic and fiscal effects of the 16-day interruption of federal operations.
Sen. Mark R. Warner, Va., who chairs the Senate Budget Committee's Government Performance Task Force, released a letter to the Government Accountability Office last week asking the agency to quantify how the lapse in appropriations affected the overall U.S. economy, the federal workforce, state and local governments, contractors and federal revenue.
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"I heard from countless federal employees and small businesses across the Commonwealth of Virginia who faced undue hardship for no good reason due to the 16-day shutdown," Warner said in the letter, adding that the best way to prevent another closure is to "better understand how this irresponsible action fully impacted our economy."
President Obama's chief economic adviser said last week that the shutdown trimmed one-quarter of a percentage point from the nation's fourth-quarter economic growth, but the administration has yet to release hard numbers on how much stopping and starting operations cost the government.
Economists and industry groups have issued some cost estimates. Ratings agencies Standard & Poor's and Moody's Analytics said the shutdown cost the economy at least $23 billion in lost output, while the U.S. Travel Association said the nation missed out on $2.4 billion in travel spending.
The White House Office of Management and Budget said during the Clinton administration that the shutdowns of fiscal 1996 cost the government $1.4 billion, or about $2.1 billion in today's money. Much of that came from paying federal employees retroactively for the time they were on furlough, according to a 1997 report from University of Maryland Baltimore County political scientist Roy Meyers.
"I believe the costs may have been much larger this time, especially when you count lost revenues, service delays and the impact of on already fragile economy," Warner said.
Virginia is one of four states with more than 100,000 federal employees. (The others are Maryland, California and Texas.) The commonwealth is also home to an untold number of firms that hold contracts with the government and that saw much of their work put on hold during the closure.
Federal workers will receive back pay for the time they went without wages during the shutdown, because of a provision in the deal that ended Congress' budget standoff.
Furloughed contractor employees will not receive retroactive compensation under the legislation. Many of them reported burning through vacation time to make ends meet during the closure.
The Republican Party was blamed by many for its role in the shutdown and has been viewed unfavorably in national polls and in a recent Washington Post poll that surveyed likely voters in the Virginia governor's race.
That survey found that 57 percent of likely voters looked unfavorably on the Virginia GOP, while 65 percent disapproved of the national party.