The 2018 US Government shutdown turned out to be the longest one on record, and it should also be the last one. The US Government should not shut down. There are simply too many bad consequences suffered by Americans in all walks of life for shutdown politics to go on any longer.
The ground stops at LaGuardia Airport and around the Northeast brought this most recent shutdown to an end on Friday, January 25th. Our air traffic control system took stress after stress until finally it couldn’t take any more and it had to stop putting planes in the air, or risk catastrophe. But this is only the most visible consequence of shutdown politics.
Long before the air traffic control system buckled, hundreds of thousands of Americans lost their paychecks. Some will never recover the money they earned. Some on the hard right celebrated the idea that “government workers” weren’t getting paid. “What does the government really do for us anyway?” But a closer look at those who were not paid for the entire month of January shows that they include FBI agents investigating crimes, Coast Guard men and women protecting our waterways and borders, and food inspectors ensuring that what we eat and drink is safe. And those are some of the workers who are expected to get backpay when a shutdown ends. Others are not so fortunate.
In addition to hundreds of thousands of people who work directly for the Unites States Government, many more are contractors for the government. These include contractors providing logistic services to our police and military. They also include the employees of companies who provide food service at national museums and parks. Some are janitors, secretaries, some are laborers, some are accountants, and some are even lawyers. Those who are making their living doing contract work, keeping the United States running, are not guaranteed to receive any backpay.
Shutdown politics unfolds on television like a spectacle and quickly gets wrapped up in who will win, the left, the right, the Democrats or the Republicans. Lost amidst the talking points and speech making by politicians is the simple fact that most Americans know that missing a month’s worth of pay can spell both short-term and long-term disaster for a family’s finances. In the short term, your paycheck may not be coming, but that doesn’t mean your credit cards, utility bills, doctor bills, and pharmacy bills don’t have to be paid. In the long term, one of the worst aspects of the modern American economy is when a family gets behind, even by a hundred dollars or a hundred and fifty dollars, the financial system tends to pile up late charges, fees, and penalties that escalate household debt to the point where far more than was borrowed (and a reasonable interest charge) is owed. Government shutdowns massively exacerbate this problem enriching banks and wealthy investors at the expense of ordinary, hardworking Americans.
Just because there wasn’t an airline catastrophe, a terrorist attack, or an outbreak of foodborne illness this time around, doesn’t mean it’s an acceptable risk to run every time politicians are not getting along. The fundamental change that is required in our politics is that we negotiate only over the things we don’t agree on and that bargains and compromises are made between competing goods that each party believes in. What should not be allowed is to thrust upon the negotiating table something that nobody wants, like a government shutdown or a debt/default crisis, or some other method for inflicting pain on the country as a negotiating tool. It is an illegitimate form of political bargaining, akin to hostage taking.
When political leaders insist that their method for getting what they want is going to be to inflict pain on everyone in the country until they get it, those leaders are failing the basic test of leadership. Politics in intended to be a forum for the peaceful resolution of differences through persuasion, bargaining, and compromising. Allowing it to devolve into the ugly scenario of government shutdown after government shutdown is a price that our country and its working families can no longer afford to pay.