Government Shutdowns Are Easily Avoidable, Which Is What Makes Them So Stupid

Question: What changed between Friday night, when the federal government shut down, to Monday afternoon when the federal government reopened?

Well, in practical terms, what changed was the willingness of lawmakers to keep the government closed. Maybe they were scared their party was going to be the one blamed for the stalemate. Whenever shutdowns are contemplated, the focus of discussion is usually on who will be damaged by the political fallout, not what ought to be done to keep things moving.

If it’s a clear cut case of the other side taking the blame, then the shutdown is likely to endure, as was the case back in ’95 when Clinton successfully pinned the whole mess on Newt Gingrich and glided to reelection the following year.

In this case, the blame game has no clear winner, which meant that the players all had incentive to find a quick solution.  But the issues that led to the shutdown remain as contentious as they ever were, and Congress is no closer to finding any common ground. Indeed, this continuing resolution isn’t continuing much of anything at all beyond a weak stopgap. The government only remains in business until February 8, at which point all the brinkmanship comes back, and we go through this whole empty exercise ad nauseam.

Government shutdowns are easily avoidable

Isn’t there a better way?

Well, of course there is. It’s called “passing a budget.” It’s something Congress used to do every year. Since the ’95 shutdown mess, however, the rules have changed to where threatening to toss everything off a cliff has become both an acceptable and, at times, effective strategy.

Since then, “continuing resolutions” have become the norm, so that Congress limps along for short spurts of time rather than do the heavy lifting of budgeting, despite the fact that they’re shirking their constitutional responsibility with this kind of nonsense.

But never mind. We have a fully operational government for another two and a half weeks. Given the colossal incompetence of Congress, we should probably be grateful for what we can get.

(Photo of The National Mall closed during the United States federal government shutdown of 2013 with the United States Capitol in the background by Reivax via Flickr)


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