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Shut down the entire government or stop the political games

George Jankowski, a furloughed U.S. Department of Agriculture worker, helps a friend move out of an apartment in Cheyenne, Wyo., Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. Jankowski was paid $30 for his help. Many federal workers are doing odd jobs or driving for ride-hailing apps to help make ends meet during the partial federal government shutdown. (AP Photo/Mead Gruver) ORG XMIT: WYMG101

George Jankowski, a furloughed U.S. Department of Agriculture worker, helps a friend move out of an apartment in Cheyenne, Wyo., Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. Jankowski was paid $30 for his help. Many federal workers are doing odd jobs or driving for ride-hailing apps to help make ends meet during the partial federal government shutdown. (AP Photo/Mead Gruver)

It seems to me when the U.S. government shuts down, the people responsible should lose their jobs.

We elect the president, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to run the government. So, when it shuts down, these people have failed as badly as a field goal kicker who repeatedly hits the uprights.

OPINION

But I’m reminded of an old editor who once told me I didn’t understand politics. As I recall, I took the position that any elected official who gave a job to a relative or a contract to a campaign donor was corrupt. Every campaign contribution, in my childish view, was a bribe.

I imagined a public disemboweling for anyone who undermined the public’s trust in government.

I am older now and realize that people, even intelligent people, can sometimes hold opposing points of view.

You just can’t go around ripping out the intestines of people you disagree with despite the opinions of people on Twitter.

Starting with that premise, that people of good will can hold different opinions, why is it we allow the people in Congress and the White House to shut down our government because they have disagreements?

This is something relatively new in U.S. history as far as I can tell.

Before 1976, there were apparently no government shutdowns. For about 200 years this country operated through a Civil War, a Great Depression and two World Wars without shutting down. Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy were assassinated, and the government kept on running.

Apparently, even though the government lacked funding, or spending authority, it always kept running under the reasonable assumption that the president and Congress might disagree over spending but would never want the government to shut down.

It was understood an appropriations bill would eventually be passed, or people like you and me would light torches and shout, “Let’s gut and hang the politicians for screwing up our country.”

No one, especially the people holding elected office, wanted that.

But in the mid-1970s, the process for congressional approval of appropriations was changed making it easier to separate out funding for different parts of the government.

In addition, some bright lad in the U.S. attorney’s office around 1980 wrote an opinion that if the Congress did not pass an appropriations bill, the departments impacted could not continue to spend money as if they would someday get funding.

And it was determined that even if the government shut down, “essential employees” of the government (like the Defense Department, FBI, and prison guards) would continue to get paid to avoid the sort of public uprising I envisioned.

As a result, politicians can shut down parts of the government for political reasons without incurring the wrath of the entire nation.

This sort of abbreviated government shutdown has happened repeatedly over abortion funding.

It happened during the Obama administration over funding for the Affordable Care Act.

It happened during the Clinton administration, and it’s happening now because President Donald Trump wants money to build a border wall.

There are people who support all of these causes.

But there is no majority support and never has been for shutting down the entire U.S. government. In fact, almost every poll shows there is no majority support for shutting down even a portion of the government for an extended period.

We all realize this is childish, but it has now become part of the political process because it seems painless, yet helps politicians demonstrate to their base that they are tough.

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That’s why I say we pass a law that if we’re ever going to shut down any part of the government to make a political point, we shut it all down. The point being made ought to be that important. Politicians ought to be willing to face the consequences.

Disemboweling would be equally effective. But that is the way British royals resolve disagreements, not the American people.

Email: philkadner@gmail.com