Good news: The people who track killer asteroids for NASA are still on the case, despite the government shutdown.
Bad news: A lot of the people who inspect food aren't. The folks from the Department of Agriculture who check meatpacking plants are still working. But the guys at the Food and Drug Administration who make routine appearances at, say, the nut-shelling factory to look for vermin, are on furlough. Not to mention a lot of the people who check shipments of seafood or vegetables from outside the country.
"They're not doing run-of-the-mill import inspections," said Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "The FDA is really falling farther behind with every day."
The House of Representatives has passed a bill to refund the FDA. This is part of a Republican strategy to approve the financing of things they like, one by one. It's not entirely clear how popular the agency was before recent news of a salmonella outbreak erupted, but now it's right up there with the national parks.
This is how members of Congress fill up their time during the current crisis. The Republicans introduce bills to fund a particularly sympathetic sector of government. The Democrats respond with a proposal to fund the whole government. Then the Republicans say the Democrats are the enemy of veterans, parks, national guardsmen or food inspections.
"Why don't we open the parts of government that we agree to?" demanded Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
"We'll be here in December, doing agency by agency," responded Dick Durbin, the assistant majority leader.
And the Environmental Protection Agency would still be on furlough. Also the Labor Department. And the Internal Revenue Service.
The IRS would probably be the last to return. That would be very tough on people who have serious issues they need to resolve. For instance, my husband, Dan, recently received a notice from the agency announcing that he was dead. Apparently this is a fairly common error, but Dan wants to be bureaucratically resurrected, and there's nobody on the other end of the phone to talk to.
Really, it's all personal. In fact, a good way to think about the current standoff is that it's a war between people who just want to have the government back and the people who want a new version of government with the priorities of Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida.
I am using Ted Yoho because he's a voluble figure in the caucus of right-wing hard-liners in the House who caused the shutdown in the first place. Also in part because I really enjoy writing "Ted Yoho." Also because he has also been one of the leading lights in the new crisis over whether to let the country go smashing though the debt ceiling.
"Everybody talks about how destabilizing doing this will be on the markets. And you'll see that initially, but heck, I've seen that in my business," Yoho told Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times. "When you go through that, and you address the problem and you address your creditors and say, <WC>'<WC1>Listen, we're going to pay you. We're just not going to pay you today, but we're going to pay you with interest and we will pay everybody that's due money' — if you did that, the world would say America is finally addressing their problem."