Tour operators will remember the federal government shutdown in October 2014, which caused national parks and other federal programs to be shut down for a number of weeks. This impacted tours in that many promised experiences were unavailable, and creative scheduling needed to be put into place to manage the disappointment of customers.
International visitors who traveled long distances to see some of America’s greatest treasures were certainly among those most frustrated by a political situation most did not understand.
Well, there is another federal deadline for a new budget on September 30. Will we see another federal government closure?
Hopefully not, but the partisan wrangling over the budget is already underway. On September 7, the Senate failed to pass a budget resolution because it was fighting over the funding of Planned Parenthood services, which has become a litmus test on women’s issues between the Republicans who want no funding and the Democrats who want to preserve the funding.
As a result, critical funding to fight the Zika virus, another symbolic issue, was defeated with the “poison pill” of reduced funding for Planned Parenthood.
While these two issues are really symbolic of the potential conflict to come, the entire federal budget is at risk. There is, however, some hope that the September 30 deadline will pass with the government still up and running. That will most likely protect the national parks and other government services used by inbound tour operators.
Why should we be so optimistic? There are two basic elements that point in that direction.
First, the entire House of Representatives and one third of the Senate is up for reelection on November 8. No one wants to be put in the position of being responsible for a government shutdown right before an election. This simple fact argues in favor of finding a solution.
Secondly, there is the same old solution used on countless occasions in the past- a CR, or “Continuing Resolution.” This simply means that Congress will authorize funding the government at the same levels as the existing budget allows. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, has already proposed doing this and funding the government until December 9 which will give the “lame duck” session of Congress the opportunity to come up with a more comprehensive plan of action. The challenge with this solution is simply getting the much more conservative House of Representatives to go along with the CR. However this is still the most likely outcome, especially if Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, allows a floor vote without first requiring enough votes to pass it with only Republican support.
International inbound tour operators can be somewhat optimistic that Congress will postpone this decision until December when dynamics will be very different. Is this guaranteed? No. Will things be easier in December? Stay tuned to see what the national election brings as a catalyst for certain kinds of solutions.