THE BUDGET IMPASSE : Idled Government Stirs No Sense of Crisis Outside Washington : Impact: Rather than fret over shutdown, much of public marvels that so many employees are ‘nonessential.’


What if the government shuts down and no one notices?

That thought apparently occurred to quite a few Americans on Wednesday during the second day of the partial shutdown in the nation’s capital.

“The media has built this up like it’s a hurricane on the way, but it has no impact on us,” said Dick Busby, owner of a construction company in Dayton, Tex. “I don’t even know anybody who has felt the impact.”

Actually, some citizens noticed right away, including those who were in the process of getting an FHA or VA government loan. In Miami, coffee shop owner Larry Rapaport admitted he was glad he was “not going to Africa tomorrow and needing a passport, or turning 65 and needing to file for Social Security.”


But for many, reports of 800,000 “nonessential” government employees being sent home mostly prompted wonderment about why the government has so many unnecessary persons on the payroll in the first place.

“About 90% of the callers want to talk about why we had all these ‘nonessential’ workers in the first place,” said Tom Isenberg, who hosts a radio talk show in Seattle.

“I bet if you asked 1,000 people on the street, no one would know what shutting down the government does,” Rapaport said.

The GrassRoots Research service asked 1,000 people by phone about the government shutdown, and 60% of the respondents said they were in favor of it--if it led to a balanced budget.

Callers were given three choices. Should Congress and the President do whatever it takes to reach an immediate agreement even if the budget is not balanced, suspend nonessential services until a balanced-budget agreement is reached, or eliminate all nonessential services now.

Scott W. Rasmussen, president of the Charlotte, N.C., polling firm, said 36% chose the first option of doing whatever it takes to reach agreement now. Meanwhile, 35% favored suspending nonessential services to reach a balanced-budget agreement, while 25% said nonessential services should simply be eliminated. A small percentage were undecided.

“This may be a huge event in Washington, but it’s a non-event out here,” Rasmussen said of the government shutdown. “It’s not that people are overjoyed about this. It’s just that what happens in Washington isn’t significant in their daily lives.”

Some people offered that they were cheered by the thought of federal inspectors, tax examiners and government regulators staying home.

“Our business goes on with or without inspections,” said David Belfort, a seafood merchant in Miami who deals both with inspectors and Customs agents. “There is some value to having shipments screened for heroin or cocaine. But how does [the shutdown] affect me? I’m happy. How desperately do we need all this government activity?”

“I hear this is a 40% shutdown [of the government], and that’s a good start. I’m pleased about it because it shows we can do without them,” said Candice Copas, a Durham, N.C., Libertarian Party activist.

But others said they are angry at the inability of Congress and the President to agree on a budget.

“It’s made me mad as hell,” said David Thompson, 44, who identified himself simply as a “taxpayer” as he strode along the sidewalk near City Hall in Los Angeles.

“These damned people in Washington are getting paid a lot of money to make decisions on things like this,” he said. “We ought to dock their pay.”

Terry Attridge, a Seattle accountant, said she was unfazed at first by the news of the government shutdown since it did not affect her at all. She became irritated, however, by reports that the government employees would be paid for not working.

“It’s upsetting that they say it’s going to cost us more by shutting down than by not shutting down,” she said. “If we were saving money by these people not working, then great. But we’re not. In the long run, we’re paying for it.”

On talk radio, the mention of the government shutdown lights up the phones, but apparently it is not a prime topic of conversation over lunch and at other gatherings.

“We’ve been busy all day, and no one’s mentioned it,” said Mike Duclos, a bartender at Duffy’s Tavern, a 50-year-old Miami bar. “Everybody’s drinking beer, just as they have been since I opened at 9:30 this morning.”

At Miami Jai Alai, manager Fred Durgen said he has observed no impact from the shutdown yet. “We don’t get that many federal employees,” he explained.

At Warner Bros. Records in Burbank, Tory Halgun, a 22-year advertising assistant, said she and her co-workers have not dwelled on the implications of the government shutdown.

“It’s like, ‘La, la, la, life goes on,’ ” she said. “It’s no big deal.”

Contributing to this report were Times staff writers and researchers Mike Clary and Anna Virtue in Miami, Eric Malnic in Los Angeles, Doug Conner in Seattle, Lianne Hart in Houston, John Beckham in Chicago and D’Jamila Salem in Washington.