Government shutdown may be a good thing

Democrats won’t fund a border wall and threaten a “government shutdown” if included in the budget under consideration. Without President Donald Trump removing the wall from consideration for now, a shutdown would be likely. Trump won largely on the popularity of the wall but promised to make Mexico pay for it with a better trade balance, so he cannot back down long term without the loss of credibility with core supporters. But a government shutdown is never as bad as portrayed, and in fact, it may be a good thing.

The fear generated by media when Republicans threaten a “government shutdown” is many times worse than when Democrats do so; compare three years ago with today. The hysteria peddlers using this terminology, and the media that purposely play to it, must know these two words emit an extreme emotional response. Moreover, the phrase essentially becomes a weapon used on other potential government “shutdown” promoters. It appears designed to frighten the least informed against the opposing political party, thus the terminology. This fear enables the media to have undue influence in spending and undermines the sole power of the House on this issue.

A budget always involves the House of Representatives, as it alone constitutionally must initiate all government spending.

“All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives,” Article I, Sec. 7, Clause 1 of the Constitution stated. This requirement places the people in charge of taxation. The Senate cannot initiate a tax bill but can adjust any initiated by the House.

So what does a “government shutdown” look like? Do the president and vice president resign now that the government ends? No, they stay on the job and receive full pay as before the shutdown. Does Congress fly out of Washington the following day and cease to draw their pay, and does the Supreme Court cease to deliberate on constitutional questions? Does the army come home and cease to protect us? No, No and NO! Do states, counties and cities no longer function? No again. They have their own tax base, and policemen, prisons and teachers remain in place. Will we still get mail? Yes. The U.S. Postal Service functions as an independent business unit. Will we still get Social Security benefits, food stamps, unemployment compensation and veterans’ benefits?  Yes.

Why then the hysteria? Because these two words, “government shutdown,” and the possibility of missed food stamps send the largely uninformed into a frenzy – they finally awake from their stupor. They know almost nothing of the wrangling of government to protect them from themselves, and they oppose any proposed government diet that might reduce their daily feed. They listen worshipfully to the party and political leaders that are least likely to disturb this base.

There will never be a government shutdown, because none of these things will ever happen, short of an overthrow of the government from within, the collapse of our financial structure which is becoming ever more likely due to our obsession with living beyond our means or a successful invasion from without. So cease the media frenzy and the subsequent overreaction.

How do we know this conclusion is true? Because we have had 18 “government shutdowns” since 1977, according to the Congressional Research Service; the Reagan administration had 8 of them alone. Because the government was shut down for 10 days in 1979, while Congress argued over a proposed salary increase for the legislative branch. Because we had a five-day shutdown between Nov. 14, 1995, and Nov. 19, 1995, and a second shutdown for 21 days between Dec. 16, 1996, and Jan. 6, 1996, and none of the bad things mentioned above happened. No. Not even one. In fact, the public as a whole didn’t even notice it.

What did happen?

“The federal government of the United States put nonessential government workers on furlough and suspended nonessential services,” according to Wikipedia. Essentially, all went on as before, except some paychecks were a few days late. Apparently, the federal government does, when forced to do so, know what nonessential services are after all and is capable of closing them if it has the will.

Our spending addiction has given our children and grandchildren a $20 trillion debt. Of course it is painful to curb our appetite, but the longer we wait the more painful, drastic and life-threatening the whole matter becomes.  Most of the programs cut in both shutdowns were not areas of clear constitutional authority as defined in Article I, Section 8, so in time, such cuts should become permanent or be subjected to the amending process for appropriate authority.

Usually diets have some benefits in and of themselves. In the case of the federal government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, both parties benefited: Democrats, under President Bill Clinton, because thereafter he was credited with “the first four consecutive balanced budgets since the 1920s” and Republicans because they retained control of both houses of Congress largely because of the popularity of their hard line on the budget, according to Wikipedia.

So at worst a “government shutdown” is really only a partial shutdown of nonessential services and a delay of payment for some few federal workers. So the federal government goes on a long overdue diet and gets back to the basics. Let’s abandon this fear-inducing terminology in the future, so that we don’t frighten the less informed and cause them to overreact?

Pease is a syndicated columnist and an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and to applying that knowledge to current events. He has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 30 years at Taft College. To read more of his weekly articles, visit

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