It may not be what you think.
A deep chill of uncertainty blew into Washington, D.C. Tuesday morning as the U.S. government went into partial shutdown after Congress failed to agree upon implementing the health reform law it passed three years ago.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton swore a shutdown wouldn't be the worst thing that's ever happened to the U.S. -- which could qualify as understatement of the year from the perspective of those it will hurt the most.
But just how will shutting down the government hurt America? Let us count the top 10 ways...
10.) All national parks are closed
Planning a road trip to Mt. Rushmore? Taking the kids to see the Grand Canyon? Maybe hoping to hike through the forests of Sequoia? Or perhaps just hoping for a jaunt through the Smithsonian? Not anymore you aren't. At least, not until Uncle Sam is done napping.
9.) The EPA goes away
Greedy corporations and billionaires usually get by without paying pennance for their sins, but without the Environmental Protection Agency their big pollution game becomes even easier -- and it's your health that suffers the consequences. Water and air monitoring? Who needs 'em? Hey, at least this way they can't regulate those coal plant emissions, and that's a big win for big business. Right?
8.) Nobody gets a tax return
The one item Republicans would cheer on this list, shutting down the IRS, is also one of the most damaging to the national interest. Fewer than 10 percent of all IRS employees remain on the job during a government shutdown -- which means no audits, no help for taxpayers attempting to file, and certainly no tax returns. Criminal investigations, however, are still ongoing. To make matters worse, all those missed deadlines add up. Expect delays the next time you're dealing with the taxman.
7.) So long, NASA
And you thought that getting rid of the space shuttle program was bad? Welcome to an America with no functioning space agency at all, at least temporarilly. Or maybe "indefinite" is a better word, considering the level of gridlock in Washington. On the flip-side, maybe a security guard in Houston will get bored enough to turn the Hubble space telescope around and take photos of House Speaker John Boehner's flopsweat. Sounds like a better use of government resources than congressional salaries, anyway.
6.) Your neighbor's rent is overdue
Your friend next door who works for a federal agency, the Pentagon or a defense contractor won't be getting that all-important rent check on time this month because of his furlough, and neither will up to 1 million others folks all across the country, according to some estimates. To make matters worse, it's not even clear if these folks will be due back-pay if and when Congress decides to jump-start the government again. This is the kind of hurt that spreads, quickly. And speaking of spreading...
5.) Sickness and disease spread unchecked
The Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health are all but nonexistent during a government shutdown, no longer tracking the spread of dangerous diseases or admitting new patients into life-saving clinical research. So if grandma suddenly catches the avian flu, well, let's just hope she's got Obamacare, because...
4.) Medicare and Social Security stop taking new applicants
If your hypothetical avian flu-having grandma doesn't get Medicare or Social Security yet, now is not the time to submit applications. Most of the workers who administer new applicants for these programs have been furloughed, so even though the payments for current Medicare and Social Security recipients are going out, no new beneficiaries are coming in.
3.) No federal loans for you, or anyone else
Federal loans underpin a great many American dreams, but the dreams of millions more are, in President Barack Obama's words, "frozen" until further notice. Not even small businesses, the very backbone of the American economy, will be able to access federal loans during the shutdown. Turns out this batch of Republicans may not be so business-friendly after all.
2.) Infants on food stamps won't get their formula
Yes, you read that right: Republicans are victimizing the babies of the poor in their quest to make sure the underclass cannot access even a basic level of health care. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, which is funded by a partnership between the states and the feds, is entirely left up to the discretion of the states during a shutdown. To make matters worse, a full 30 states are run by Republicans who, in all likelihood, will be delighted to boast about how much money they saved by refusing to feed penniless children. Just ask Rick Perry. He knows all about this.
1.) We're potentially unleashing economic armageddon
Typically, when people fight they get madder and madder until the anger reaches a crescendo and some kind of resolution is found. It's not clear if the shutdown is that crescendo, or if this fight over Obamacare really will blow the lid off Washington in a few weeks time. If the U.S. government defaults on its debt obligations, the immediate effect would be austerity so extreme it makes the sequester look like cheesecake. Multinational corporations would flee the U.S. for more stable political systems as nearly all U.S. bondholders sell as fast as possible. Trillions of dollars would empty out of the markets and millions would lose their jobs. It would be the end of America as we know it and the beginning of something wholly new: a dark, feudalistic future where the best and the brightest of our next generation only aspire to leave, and do everything they can to ensure they never, ever return.
Photo: Flickr user the Italian Voice, creative commons licensed.