This is not to suggest that local journalists should feel obligated to throw bricks at Huelskamp and other signees as liberal bloggers (and Republicans like Johanns) have done—only that they make sure their readers are aware of what their members of Congress have been doing and what the consequences may be.
See, for instance, this hometown writeup by Jon Ostendorff of the Asheville (NC) Citizen-Times on a town hall event last month hosted by Rep. Meadows of North Carolina, author of the House GOP letter. The headline says it all: “Meadows would close DC to stop Obamacare.” The story touches on a host of issues mentioned at the town hall but foregrounds Meadows’ dramatic pledge to defund the health care law at all costs; records a mixed reaction of “boos and applause” in the hall; provides context on the House GOP letter; and does a little factchecking work:
Meadows said he does not fear economic decline with a shutdown because the federal government does not create jobs.
That’s not always the case. North Carolina’s unemployment rate increased slightly in July with the loss of government jobs tempering private sector gains.
This formula could be easily applied by reporters in Huelskamp’s district, or in any one of the districts and states represented by the senators and representatives who have made the same pledge. The GOP letters themselves are no longer news, but their reverberations only seem to increase by the day.
Some editors may object that a shutdown is a DC problem, not local news, and there’s no question that here in the Midwest, congressional correspondents are in short supply. Huelskamp’s rural district, for instance, has no major media markets, with only a host of smaller community papers sprinkled throughout; and even some of the larger papers nearby have scant resources to devote to Beltway intrigue.
Topeka Capital-Journal reporter Tim Carpenter, who recorded how the Kansas delegation voted in a story on Friday, told me that his paper emphasizes local rather than national news.
“The congressional coverage is something I do in my spare time,” he said.
The Wichita Eagle’s Phillip Brownlee told me on Friday that his paper also has a local focus, although, he said, “We likely will do an editorial later next week as the deadline nears.”
Still, to one degree or another, a federal government shutdown is a local story.
According to the federal employees’ website, FedSmith.com, in 2011 there were 9,269 federal government workers in Iowa; 10,933 in Nebraska; 18,144 in Kansas; and 37,326 in Missouri. Many of these jobs—probably a majority, in fact—would not be subject to furlough in a shutdown because they are designated as “essential,” but even a few thousand furloughed workers in a less-populous Midwestern state over a sustained period could be enough to deliver a significant economic hit. In all, the Office of Management and Budget estimated that the 1995-96 shutdowns cost the federal government $1.4 billion.
And now, with Huelskamp and his fellow signees holding firm and Democrats, unsurprisingly, vowing that they will not agree to undo President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, history is set to repeat itself next week. The White House has already issued a memo calling on agencies to prepare for the worst.
Even if a shutdown is averted, Republican leaders are looking ahead to the debt-ceiling debate next month as another promising venue for defunding Obamacare. As recent history has shown, this gambit potentially holds even greater peril than a shutdown—threatening a US credit downgrade and worldwide economic turmoil. So this story is not going away anytime soon.
In April 2011, the last time a shutdown seemed to be a real possibility, KMBZ radio in Kansas City asked Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri a key question about the potential local fallout:
KMBZ: What happens to the people in your district—your constituency—if the shutdown does come?
Graves: Well, obviously, the government essentially, you know, shuts down, other than vital services. And that’s the last thing we want to happen. We’re working very hard to try to make sure that we avoid that, and move forward.