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Government Shutdown: How Did We Get Here?

We’re just days away from the expiration of funding for the federal government running dry, and that event that is spoken about only in hushed tones of dread by the Washington establishment: a government shutdown. For those who regard the federal government as the provider of all that is good and noble in the world, whose Life-of-Julia worldviews require state intervention in all activities great and small, this represents an unthinkable tragedy. The rest of us tend not to really notice, except when the Feds go out of their way to prevent World War II veterans from visiting their own, open air memorial.

Of course, the shutdown can be averted, and there’s a decent chance it will be. Congress is scrambling to cobble together a stopgap funding bill that will push the deadline back until December, when weary lawmakers eager to bask in yuletide festivities with their loved ones will be less likely to put up a fight over the use and abuse of taxpayer dollars.

But more interesting than whether or not the government shuts down (or for how long, or whose fault it is) is the question of why we keep finding ourselves in this predicament. Why is a funding crisis always just around the corner, and why do we keep having to choose between funding absolutely everything without question or being labeled as obstructionists, anarchists, and terrorists?

The reason for this is simple: bad governance on the part of congressional leadership. Government funding is supposed to appropriated throughout the year in a series of appropriations bills for the various government agencies. So, ordinarily we would see a funding bill for the Department of Defense, another one for the Department of Health and Human Services, another one for energy and commerce, and so on. Each of these bills would be debated and amended, and we would be able to have a constructive dialogue about what actually needs to be funded, and what we can afford to cut.

But that’s not what happens anymore. Instead, Congress waits until the end of the fiscal year, panics that all these departments are suddenly going to be without funding, and lumps them all together into either a continuing resolution, or an omnibus spending bill. The size of the bill means no one is able to read or understand it; the timeline is such that there is limited opportunity for debate or amendments. Those Members of Congress who have reservations about the continued reckless spending are told that they must support it, or else they are “shutting down the government.” The bill passes, and we get ready to do the same thing all over again next year.

It’s a trick, it’s a swindle, it’s a political calculation made to preserve the status quo and prevent real reform from ever happening. Congressional leadership enlists the aid of media outlets to demonize and demagogue all opposition to this insane way of doing business, and rank and file Members fall for it because they can’t afford the kind of bad publicity they’re sure to get by standing on principle and demanding good governance.

This mode of governing by crisis predates John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, but some of the blame must still be laid at their feet. As leaders of the majority party in both the House and Senate, they set the agenda, and they could reform the process if they wanted to.

Instead, Boehner is spending all his time pretending to be a fiscal conservative, while his allied call those who disagree with him “right-wing Marxists”, and Mitch McConnell takes direction from Harry Reid as if Democrats still controlled the Senate. This is why so many conservatives in Congress are upset. This is why they’re demanding new leadership.

The government may shut down, and it may not, but the fact that we are even talking about it is a reflection of Boehner and McConnell’s failures to depart significantly from the tactics of Pelosi and Reid. We’ve got to do better.

7 comments
kanawah's picture
kanawah
09/27/2015

As you said in the third paragraph, the problem is the "obstructionists, anarchists, and terrorists.

That is a perfect description of the tea party maniacs. There is not one of them that is interested in the good of the country or the people. They are only interested in serving their "masters". The rich oligarchs that is financing their antics. Their second allegiance is to the destruction of our government.

bert1014's picture
bert1014
09/27/2015

stone stone. I see by your posts and replies that you are someone that believes they have all the answers and, at times, even thinks they can tell the future. It is apparent that you must think pretty highly of yourself.
Even though we have never met, you know what they say about first impressions and my first impression is that you are a Moron that just likes to hear themselves talk.
Hope you are enjoying yourself in that small little world of "You".

stonestone's picture
stone stone
09/23/2015

How did "we" get here? Government shutdowns somehow wernt a problem until the GOP decided to act like small children and throw tantrums anytime they don't get everything they want. If we undergo another shutdown the GOP will take full blame. The last time this happened it cost us billions of dollars- ironic seeing as how republicans go on and on about government waste

stonestone's picture
stone stone
09/25/2015

Ooooh! You know how to use Wikipedia! Anyway, while what you mentioned is certainly true, let's put some perspective on this... Shall we? Ever since 2008 congress has basically held the budget hostage each and every time the budget comes up. That is a vastly accelerated trend compared to the past. Hence the statements I made previously are more or less in line: the GOP has done more to cost the U.S. Taxpayer more in government shutdowns than at any other time period in history. Oh- and you're welcome for the traffic. Seeing as how hardly anyone beyond me seems to comment I'm guessing you need it.

logan.albright's picture
Logan Albright
09/24/2015

Actually, the government shut down 17 times between 1976 and 2008, as you can see from the following helpful Wikipedia article. Thanks for your continued traffic!
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_shutdown_in_the_United_States

stonestone's picture
stone stone
09/24/2015

Sorry Francis but what you mentioned is the exact opposite of reality. As I said before, prior to 2008 the government never got shut down but now it's a problem twice a year. It all stated as soon as Obama won in 2008 and the GOP decided to be a totally obstructionist party. No matter- so far the GOP has lost every single issue. They have wasted 7 years accomplishing nothing. They've also learned nothing and seeing their current front runners for 2016 shows they'll probably continue their same game

Francis Pettigrew's picture
Francis Pettigrew
09/24/2015

how did we get here stone stone? because the democrats are crying like little girls over not getting everthing they want, the gop wants to suspend funding to pp for one year while an investigation of their practices is done, meanwhile everthing else the dems want they are getting. if the government shuts down it is because o'bama vetoed a bill that gave him everything he wants except one thing.

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