Panic in the Streets of D.C.

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 8 2011 12:01 PM

Panic in the Streets of D.C.

Whenever someone is tempted to think I'm smart, think on this: My car's registration and driver's license expire next week, and I waited until today to renew them. My trip to D.C.'s DMV informs me that not everyone pays attention to contrarian predictions or reporting about the game theory of budget negotiations. No, indeed. People freak out .

For example, the main location that offers car inspection usually has a line winding around a block. At 9 a.m., it wound around four blocks. This sign was one of the reasons.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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Credit where due, the DMV employees handled the crowds smartly, waving them into separate queues, sprinting occasionally when someone who'd gone catatonic with boredom misinterpreted a hand signal and headed into a bus line instead of a car line. It was a messier situation at the nearby DMV office, where licenses are handed out, and everyone I talked to in line said it was the shutdown angst that'd had brought them in.

"What I heard is that they're going to shut it down because they don't want to pass some abortion bill," said Andre Love, a home repair and improvement contractor who was trying to get his motorcycle registered. "It's gonna be bad. That's why everyone's here today."

It's only been a day or so that Democrats have claimed that Republicans are forcing the shutdown over a ban on funds for Planned Parenthood. (The funds cannot pay for abortion; that's illegal under the Hyde Amendment.) But when I ask people open-ended questions -- why are you here, why might the government shut down -- they all cite this. Two women behind me in one line talked about why the government might shut down -- abortion, they agreed -- and got angry at something they'd just heard, that members of Congress would be paid while other government workers wouldn't be.

"Nobody here's getting paid and they're getting paid?" said one of the women. "If they stopped them getting paid I bet you they'd figure a deal out."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.