As this was being written, the federal government was lurching toward the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year with no budget resolution in sight, which means that as you read this, big gobs of the federal government may or may not be shutting down.

Washington was full of assurances last week that the federal government's key safety and security operations would continue in the face of a shutdown, such as air traffic control, airport security, customs and border protection, etc. That's good news for the travel industry.

The bad news is that even with these services intact, the travel industry would take a hit.

To begin with, an awful lot of business travel -- including airline trips, hotel stays and car rentals -- involves federal employees and federal contractors, and most of it will simply stop if the government suspends operations.

The processing of passport and visa applications will also grind to a halt, which could not only affect the outlook for fall and winter travel by U.S. residents, but inbound travel from burgeoning markets, such as Brazil and China, whose travelers still require a visa to enter the U.S.

The National Park Service is also in the cross hairs, as are the private companies that operate as concessionaires within the parks.

It's hard to imagine attractions such as the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Art being closed for lack of funds, but it could happen.

How do you explain this to a disappointed overseas visitor without making the U.S. political system appear to be just a little ridiculous? In most democracies, a governing coalition comes to power because it can govern.

We don't expect our political parties to agree on everything, but we believe citizens and businesses are ill-served by a system that can't keep functioning while its constituent parts try to work out their differences.

If there is a shutdown, may it be brief.
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