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Taxpayers, you deserve your money back

By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor
October 7, 2013 -- Updated 1042 GMT (1842 HKT)
The Statue of Liberty looms over visitors below on Liberty Island in New York Harbor on Sunday, October 13, 2013. The statue was closed to the public by the federal government's partial shutdown that began October 1, 2013, but reopened Sunday after the state of New York agreed to shoulder the costs of running the site during the shutdown. The Statue of Liberty looms over visitors below on Liberty Island in New York Harbor on Sunday, October 13, 2013. The statue was closed to the public by the federal government's partial shutdown that began October 1, 2013, but reopened Sunday after the state of New York agreed to shoulder the costs of running the site during the shutdown.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • It's taxpayers who finance government operations, writes Bob Greene
  • Now that much of government is shutdown, we deserve a refund, he says
  • Consumers would demand refund from other providers who didn't provide services, he says
  • Greene: Government is expected to open its doors; if not, give us our taxes back

Editor's note: CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a best-selling author whose 25 books include "Late Edition: A Love Story"; "Duty: A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War"; and "Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen."

(CNN) -- So, when can we expect our refund checks?

Because two can play this game.

On the one side of the federal government shutdown are the people whose job it is to run that government: the Congress and the White House. Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals -- no one forced any of them to take those jobs. They wanted them. Then ran for them. They got them.

On the other side -- at least in a rational world, which this isn't -- is us. The taxpayers.

Congress still gets paid -- it's in the Constitution

Bob Greene
Bob Greene

We pay federal income tax with one solitary and bedrock expectation: We are handing our money over so that the federal government will run.

Some people may not like how the government operates; some may not care for a particular president or a particular member of Congress or a particular government program.

We accept that, as we pay our taxes. We pay those taxes because we have to. We know that we don't get to withhold those taxes just because we may dislike some of the people or programs the taxes are funding.

But when we are told that the government has been shut down-- that it has been closed for business -- that's different.

We paid for that service. We had no choice.

Americans hurt as DC 'squabbles like kids'

If we had paid for an airline ticket, and in the middle of our trip the airline informed us that one leg of our journey had been canceled, we would justifiably demand a refund.

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Shutdown drags on, debt ceiling looms

If we ordered an annual subscription to 52 weeks of a magazine, and then, a few months into it, the magazine told us that its new policy was to publish only 26 issues a year, we would, with good reason, ask for half of our money back.

If we paid for a one-year membership in a health club, and the club announced that it would have to close for repairs for three months, we would expect a 25% refund.

So ... exactly when can we expect to see our refund checks from the federal government?

We have paid for it to operate.

And -- with the exception of what, for now, are being deemed certain essential functions -- it is not operating.

Opinion: Shutdown could be shock therapy

The people we have paid to operate it can blame each other all they want for what has happened. They can point fingers and say that it's all the other guys' fault.

But whoever ultimately shoulders the blame, the fact is that the people who hired them -- the American taxpayers -- are not getting what they paid for.

So the refunds, for the portions of government operations that have been shuttered, are owed. Or at least they should be owed, in any other kind of sane business.

The longer the shutdown continues, the larger the refunds should logically become. As if logic has had anything to do with any of these developments.

Congress and the White House might hear this request and say: That's preposterous. The government is hurting for funds -- it needs the money.

Well, many of the people who pay for the government to run are hurting for funds, too. They need the money, too.

The government, no matter what anyone thinks of its various policies, no matter where anyone positions himself or herself along the political and ideological continuum, is expected to do one thing:

Open its doors each morning.

When it doesn't, the people who paid for it to do just that have a right to propose that they are owed -- for services not rendered -- their money back.

With interest.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Greene.

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