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Collins: Get your flu shot, cook carefully and pray

  • (SIGNE WILKINSON / Philadelphia Daily News)

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.

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