Guest Column: Do ya feel lucky, punk?

Bart Chilton

Many who thought a government shutdown wouldn’t be such a big hairy deal are now reassessing.

In recent days, we’ve learned that the National Institutes of Health hasn’t started clinical trials to find cures for various diseases, including cancer. The trials might help millions and could save the lives of those participating in the trials. People might live or die because of the shutdown.

The Food and Drug Administration has stopped all testing, including imported foods. Hey fella, can you say salmonella? In fact, there’s now hundreds of people sick in 18 states because of some raunchy chicken. Bon appetit.

Smokey Bear don’t care, and Woodsy Owl no longer gives a hoot if you pollute. The Environmental Protection Agency is closed. Even the Federal Aviation Administration has stopped airplane inspections.

Like Dirty Harry said, “So you gotta ask yourself, do I feel lucky. Well, do ya, punk?”

We shouldn’t have to feel lucky to drink safe water, eat a meal or board an airplane. The government performs critical undertakings that we can’t do as individuals. In fact, states can’t even do them. Only our federal government has the ability to perform these key services.

What about early childhood education, including some of the food programs for underprivileged kids? What about workplace safety inspections? And, what about the families of servicemen and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice? Five soldiers died last weekend in Afghanistan. The one-time $100,000 “gratuity gifts” that are normally provided to survivors — often used for travel to Dover Air Force Base in order to meet the loved one’s casket, for burial expenses, or for immediate bills until survivor benefits kick in—have stopped.

Financial markets that set the price we pay for everything from a gallon of milk, orange juice, or gas, to interest rates on everything we buy on credit have zippo zilch federal oversight. On Oct. 1, boom boom, out went the lights on market surveillance, oversight and enforcement. Bad guys can be getting away right now because market regulators are simply missing in action.

All of this could have been, and can be now, avoided. It’s clear there are enough votes in the House (where there’s a Republican majority) to pass what’s called a clean continuing resolution, or CR, to start running the government again. The Democrat-majority Senate would pass a CR in a heartbeat, and President Barack Obama says he’ll sign. Unfortunately, here we are waiting — even those who once thought a government shutdown wouldn’t be so awful — wondering how lucky we feel.

– Bart Chilton is a commissioner on the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the author of “Ponzimonium: How Scam Artists Are Ripping Off America.”