Partisan showdown caused government shutdown

Phillip Chao
Government cannot be shut down at any time like business firms, because a government shutdown affects the whole nation – both its psychological and physical strength.
Phillip Chao

THE latest shutdown of US government has ended, but will it happen again?

According to The New York Times, the US Senate voted 81-18 on January 22 to end the three-day-old government shutdown, “with Democrats joining Republicans to fund the government through February 8 in exchange for a promise from Republican leaders to address the fate of young, undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers.”

The exact cost of the latest shutdown is yet to be tallied, but according to Fortune Magazine’s analysis on January 19, a look at the 2013 shutdown could give a clue.

“The approximately two-week shutdown in 2013 did, however, leave a modest mark on the US economy, with GDP down slightly during that quarter as a result of unpaid workers spending less. Also, some US$4 billion in tax refunds were delayed as a result of furloughed workers in the Internal Revenue Service, with the Office of Management and Budget saying the shutdown cost taxpayers some US$2 billion in lost productivity. National parks alone lost some US$500 million in revenue, as they, too, shut their gates during the 16-day shutdown.”

This time the costs may be more modest, but actually a government shutdown means far more than just economic costs.

A CNN report on January 20 noted: “A government shutdown could potentially hurt the health of more than the government workers who will be plagued with the uncertainty and stress of not knowing when they’ll get back to work and collect a paycheck. The shutdown could impact you, too.”

Fundamental flaw

Such a shutdown betrays a fundamental flaw in American-style bipartisan politics, a flaw in which partisan interests can willfully perch above public ones.

Indeed, The New York Times reported on January 22: “After a weekend of partisan finger-pointing — in which Democrats branded the shutdown the ‘Trump Shutdown,’ after President Trump, and Republicans branded it the ‘Schumer shutdown’ — Monday’s vote offered Republicans and Democrats a way out of an ugly impasse that threatened to cause political harm to both parties.” Mark the phrases “finger-pointing” and “an ugly impasse.”

In the US political system, the senate and the Congress used to be “double assurances” as both worked together to ensure that only proposals beneficial to the people were permitted, but now they can be “double burdens” as they sometimes intentionally delay deliberation of important issues simply to satisfy certain partisan agendas.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor on the night of January 21: “Let’s step back from the brink. Let’s stop victimizing the American people and get back to work on their behalf.”

It was not the first time that American people were victimized by bipartisan bickering and political stalemate.

Dylan Matthews wrote in the Wonkblog of The Washington Post in 2013: “Since the modern congressional budgeting process took effect in 1976, there have been a total of seventeen separate government shutdowns (or ‘spending gaps’ in Hill jargon).”

The author further noted: “Before some 1980 and 1981 opinions issued by then-Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, a failure to fund some part of the government didn’t necessarily mean that that part of government would stop functioning. Civiletti’s opinions interpreted the Antideficiency Act, a law passed in 1884, as meaning that a failure to pass new spending bills required government functioning to shut down in whole or in part.”

In my opinion, government cannot be shut down at any time like business firms, because a government shutdown affects the whole nation — both its psychological and physical strength.

Even if a shutdown does not have a particularly significant real-world effect, it certainly highlights the fact that bipartisan interests often come at the cost of the wider public interest.

The author is a freelancer in the US.

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