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Harold Pease, Ph. D

Democrats won’t fund a border wall and threaten a “government shutdown” if included in the budget under consideration. Without President Donald Trump removing for now the wall from consideration, a shutdown would be likely. President Trump largely won 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, 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 to be used on other potential government “shutdowners.” It appears designed to frighten the least informed against the other political party, thus the terminology. This 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). This 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. Does Congress fly out of Washington D. C. the following day and cease to draw their pay, and the Supreme Court cease to deliberate on constitutional questions? Does the army come home and cease to protect us? No! No, 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 largely know nothing of the wrangling of government to protect them from themselves and oppose any proposed government diet that might reduce their daily feed. They worshipfully listen to the party and political leaders that are least likely to disturb this base.

There will never be a government shut down 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 to live beyond our means), or a successful invasion from without. So cease the media frenzy and subsequent over-reaction.

How do we know this? Because we have had 18 “government shutdowns” since 1977 according to the Congressional Research Service, the Reagan Administration having 8 of them alone. Because in 1979 the government was shut down for 10 days while Congress argued over a proposed salary increase for the legislative branch. Because we had a five-day shutdown between November 14 and November 19, 1995, and a second one of 21 days, between December 16, and January 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.

Then what did happen? “The Federal government of the United States put non-essential government workers on furlough and suspended non-essential services…(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 non-essential 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 dollar debt. Of course it is painful to curb our appetite, but the longer we wait the more painful, drastic, and life threatening it 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 1920’s” and Republicans because they retained control of both houses of Congress largely because of the popularity of their hard line on the budget (Wikipedia).

So at worst a “government shutdown” is really only a partial shutdown of non-essential 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 terminology in the future so that we don’t frighten the less informed and they overreact?

Dr. Harold 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 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, please visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org.