But the collective impact of a scaled-back shutdown is expected to be small, and many economists have already shifted to sounding the alarm over a significantly scarier scenario: the likelihood that a paralyzed Congress will allow the nation to default on its debts.
The government could run out of money to pay its bills as soon as the middle of this month if Congress fails to raise the borrowing limit. That would undermine global confidence in the United States as the world’s financial safe haven and could permanently increase the nation’s borrowing costs.
“This becomes a bigger problem than the one we had this time last week, when it was just the shutdown,” said Stephen Fuller, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis.
Fuller had estimated that the Washington region would lose more than $200 million a day during the shutdown, largely in lost income for federal workers. But over the weekend, the House passed a bill that would pay employees for their time at home. The Senate is planning to move forward on the measure this week. Fuller said the bill would turn the furloughs into paid vacations, diminishing the economic impact of the shutdown.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon called back almost all of its employees, saying they provided direct support for the active-duty military. That helped defuse a potential cascade of furloughs in the Washington region’s $70 billion government contracting industry.
Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin had said Friday that it would furlough 3,000 of its roughly 120,000 employees but trimmed that figure to 2,400 on Monday, after the Pentagon’s announcement. The company said the majority of those employees — 2,100 working on civilian-agency programs and 300 on Pentagon programs — are based in the Washington area. They will be paid for vacation time during the furlough, and the company will advance up to 40 hours to workers who have not accrued enough time.
Hartford, Conn.-based United Technologies canceled its plans to furlough nearly 2,000 workers this week. McLean-based Science Applications International Corp. said it has sent hundreds of employees home but continues to provide them pay and benefits, while Falls Church-based General Dynamics said it has not furloughed any employees.
Other types of businesses that rely on federal workers, such as food trucks and restaurants, may not be able to recoup lost revenue. Tourism may also be hit as national museums and parks remain closed.
“This all comes down to a confidence issue,” said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist for Sterne Agee. “The consumer is just very, very sensitive to the shenanigans in Washington.”