Consensus Opinion: Government shutdowns

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

Why have shutdowns become a common occurrence?

As the Sept. 30 deadline for passing bills looms over Congress, it seems that a government shutdown may be inevitable yet again. With rampant infighting between and within the highly divided parties, we at the Technique wish to discuss the circumstances surrounding the occurrence of government shutdowns and how they have come to pass rather frequently in the past 50 years.

Generally, the idea of a government shutdown, while unfair to those without pay, makes sense in the context of finances. Without a fiscal plan for the upcoming year, payments cannot be made and money for expenditures cannot be fairly allocated. However, a glaring issue within the government shutdown process is that those making the decision or inciting conflict resulting in the shutdown are not affected. The real effects are faced by government employees, who will be furloughed or, if deemed essential workers, made to work without pay. 

While, in the past, the idea of a shutdown may have functioned as an important incentive for quick and efficient passage of bills, this is no longer the case. Since the 1980s, when the practice of government shutdowns became rather normalized under former President Ronald Reagan, this has become a recurring issue. The longest government shutdown occurred under former President Donald Trump, in 2019, and this bleak trend has continued on, with shutdowns becoming longer and more common. 

At present, current infighting within the Republican party is demonstrative of woeful ignorance and disregard for those actually impacted by the shutdown. There is blame being thrown around and rather than focusing on the fact that shutdowns are unacceptable, Congress is putting focus on the argument of which party is at blame. A loud minority of Republicans is fighting against Speaker Kevin McCarthy specifically, yet they are also stopping government functions in the process. The position of Speaker of the House is too precarious.

There exists an ongoing issue within Congress, regardless of party, where legislators lack maturity. They have forgotten that they are responsible for governing an entire nation and that their actions have real consequences for Americans. Rather than being tied down by party ideals and the support of their constituents, they are controlled by money and self-interests. 

Government officials have become out of touch with the reality of being an American. Congress went into recess until Sept. 26th, when members should have been using that time to work towards passing the 12 appropriations bills of the omnibus; they have become so out of touch that they cannot see the gravity of the situation and choose to prioritize party issues and divisiveness, instead. No other entity is held to this standard. If an individual does not have their bills in order, they may be kicked out of their home or face other adverse consequences. Congresspeople, on the other hand, face no repercussions for failing to pass bills.

This is a uniquely American problem. While some countries have attributed the United States’ government shutdown issue to the concept of   “western democracy,” this is not the case. European countries utilize a western democracy and yet, the countries have fail-safes that ensure the functionality of their governments. The United States needs similar fail-safes to protect the American people from government failures. 

We must also hold legislators accountable for their hand in causing government shutdowns. If a Congressperson causes such an ordeal, that is an obvious demonstration of their failure as a representative. Regardless of party lines, all Americans, especially government workers, are undeniably hurt by government shutdowns. The Speaker of the House position also should not hold so much value and power for one individual that it can impact the lives of millions of Americans. Money and power cannot drive so much of the government. 

In the United States, people are getting used to government shutdowns. It feels as though they are part of the lawmaking process, but this is by no means the case. In reality, government shutdowns are the product of selfish and immature legislators. As the country prepares to enter yet another shutdown, Americans must begin paying attention to the ways in which representatives fail to truly represent the people.