The partial government shutdown, which began on December 22, has already surpassed the record for the longest shutdown ever. That benchmark was passed after January 12. We’ve reached the point where all the political petulance is certainly impacting real people given that a good chunk of the 800,000 federal workers did not receive their paycheck on January 11. Like the private sector, there are lots of federal employees who are single parents just scraping by financially.
Some of the news stories are tragic but nonsensical like this headline in the Fresno Bee: “Man dies after fall into Merced River in Yosemite National Park during government shutdown.” People fall and die in National Parks too when the government is not shutdown. Are we suppose to believe the government worker whose job it is to catch somebody falling off a cliff was furloughed? Or the headline that tried to blame the gun getting past security at an airport because of the shutdown when the TSA is already notorious for a failure rate of over 90 percent.
But one of the aspects I find amazing about the news coverage is this feeling that all that has to happen is for the federal government to fully reopen for everything to be fine. Don’t get me wrong, in no way is a partial government shutdown a good or positive thing. It points to the dysfunction and brokenness of our federal government. The last time Congress has followed its own rules and passed an actual budget was in 1997 when Bill Clinton was president. Now they just pass continuing resolutions, making no important decisions about fiscal responsibility given that we are $22 trillion in debt.
While I’m certainly all for border security, I’d much rather see a shutdown fight over difficult spending decisions to put this country on the path towards fiscal sanity. I find the continued fiscal irresponsibility to be more maddening and detrimental to the common good than any partial shutdown. In general, though, Congress desperately needs to have difficult decisions on many of the issues they continually punt on. One can certainly say the president is at least trying to force a discussion over border security.
The shutdown should highlight the fact that we are still not having any of those difficult conversations. Jeffrey Tucker penned a piece titled “No, This Shutdown Does Not Look Like Liberty.” He makes a solid case for privatizing some museums, airline security, and the beer label approval process. Yes, craft beer label approval is on hold because of this shutdown and a lot of breweries rely on seasonal beers for their annual profits. It’s a clear reminder that the tentacles of the federal government are way overextended. Over at FEE, given the shutdown, Ryan McMaken makes another solid case for abolishing the TSA.
The more things that are federalized, the more they are prone to become victims of the politicization and dysfunction that is continually playing out in Washington.
Most important though, I think it’s essential to really ask this fundamental question when we look at our federal government: Can we continue on with this historic deficit spending and debt? When the partial shutdown ends do we just continue going on with the status quo? Do we just say “all is well now?”
The shutdown should only reinforce the brokenness of the federal government even when it’s fully reopened again. The shutdown is only a symptom of the brokenness. It’s a reminder the best chance for reform and innovation is at the state and local level. It’s also a reminder that it’s a great opportunity for our state and North Carolinians to lead in ways to reform and detangle us from so much of what is broken in Washington.