The window for passing legislation that would stave off a government shutdown is closing rapidly. And despite a flurry of activity in Washington for coronavirus relief, we’re no closer to a financial plan for our country.

But the absence of a plan for funding the Federal government could have a much greater impact than a few non-essential federal offices getting shut down and employees being furloughed. A government shutdown could cost American lives. 

Hear me out. 

We’ve all seen a government shutdown. It’s uncomfortable. Sure, essential services continue to be funded — including the military — and life for the average American isn’t affected that much.

But there isn’t much that is normal about American life right now. 

Firstly, there’s the coronavirus, which has spiked to ghastly new heights in recent weeks. While winter has yet to deal its first major blows, those are surely not far away. This means that more people will be isolated and cut off from care. Say nothing of the failed attempts to pass a relief bill to help hard-hit Americans from going even deeper into the red over the holidays — or worse, into the hospital with COVID-19. Say what you want about the relief package and the politics surrounding it, the bottom line is that this winter is going to hit the American people hard. 

Secondly, we have yet to officially declare a winner of the November 4 presidential election. Again, say what you will about the politics, the so-called rigged election, recounts, or pending legal actions. We don’t have a clear sense of who will be sitting in the White House in just over a month. While the Biden camp seems to be preparing in case the race is called in its favor, the Trump administration has been relatively quiet as of late. That is, except to remind us that POTUS would likely veto a Defense spending plan if it were to contain language that would rename military bases named after guys who fought in the Civil War. (Read: I am as interested in the preservation of our history as the next guy. But it seems a silly time to die on that particular hill.)

Who’s to say how the White House will see any new legislation?

Then of course is the global climate. In the past week, two high-level Iranians were killed in attacks that suggest a level of tactical expertise (and ruthlessness) commonly employed by one of our closest allies. Tehran has already threatened to retaliate. And on the streets, Iranians aren’t dissecting the nuances of our political system and party politics to decide who should be a target. No. It won’t really matter as long as they’re American. 

Students of Iran’s Basij paramilitary force burn posters depicting U.S. President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, during a rally in front of the foreign ministry in Tehran, on November 28, 2020, to protest the killing of prominent nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh a day earlier near the capital. (Photo by Atta Kenare/AFP)

As if that weren’t enough to motivate our elected officials to avoid a shutdown, there are also the troops in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan — not to mention all over the world — who are small in number and in real danger. People take for granted the fact that on the shoulder of each of those servicemembers is a flag. That flag doesn’t denote nationality: it’s a reminder to our enemies. It tells them that behind each soldier is the full, unadulterated might of the United States military. If our civilian leadership drags its feet it will be sending the wrong message to our servicemembers and those they are fighting on the battlefield. Surely, there’ll still be a phone ringing in the Situation Room if something popped off, but will all the necessary staff be there to pick it up, or will it go to voicemail?

Don’t forget about the TSA. Remember a couple of years when we watched as our politicians let one of the longest government shutdowns in U.S. history happen? Well, according to the Washington Post, one in 16 TSA employees were out of work during the shutdown. That’s roughly six percent of the airport security, bag checkers, x-ray technicians, and bomb-sniffing dog handlers staying at home instead of securing our airports. 

But the pandemic is keeping people at home, right? Wrong. According to several reports, more people traveled over the Thanksgiving holiday than any time period since the pandemic began. According to CNN, some 1.17 million people were screened by TSA over the Thanksgiving break, and while that’s only 41 percent of the number of travelers in 2019, it’s still a huge amount of masked people moving through our nation’s airports.  

I’m not suggesting that while our elected officials spar over the bill’s language and any add-ons Americans are being put in danger. I am saying it outright. 

Perhaps I am a worrier, but it seems like now’s not the time to turn the lights off in Washington.