Why Republicans love government shutdowns


Jakob Benedetti – Staff Writer

The partial government shutdown that just ended was the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, lasting some 35 days and leading to over 800,000 federal workers and contractors going without pay for over a month. The agencies affected included the Interior Department, the EPA, the State Department, the FDA and the IRS.

Government shutdowns are a relatively new phenomenon in American politics, and I would argue they’re indicative of the dysfunction and backwards incentives that have taken hold of our political system as a whole. To date, there have been only 10 government shutdowns with the first occurring in 1980 under President Carter. It wasn’t until the fifth shutdown in 1990 under President H.W. Bush that any had lasted longer than one day. There were two under President Clinton that lasted five and 21 days respectively; one under President Obama that lasted 16 days; and two, so far, under Trump, lasting three and 35 days, respectively.

I would argue that the reason that government shutdowns have become so much longer and more common is that the Republican party has no incentive aside from public pressure to fear shutting down the government. On the contrary, shutting down the government actually accomplishes a core goal of their ideology, that is, to reduce the number of public services the government is able to provide while making the government as dysfunctional as possible so as to seemingly prove their laissez-faire policies right. To be clear, I’m not saying that every government shutdown has been the fault solely of Republicansthat’s simply not true. But what I am saying is that the three most recent government shutdowns, especially the one under Obama and the one we just got out of, are a direct result of the GOP actually being incentivized to shut down the government without concern for the federal workers and taxpayers who would be directly and negatively impacted by such dysfunction.

Let’s just take the most recent shutdown as an example. The shutdown was triggered when President Trump said, during Oval Office negotiations with Democratic leaders, “If we don’t get what we want, whether it’s through you or military or whatever, I will shut down the government.” A few days later, the government was shut down. Trump was demanding $5.7 billion dollars to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, one of his signature campaign promises, despite a majority of Americans not favoring a wall with Mexico, and some 71% of Americans saying that a government shutdown wasn’t worth getting wall funding.

Notice which agencies were directly affected by the shutdown: the IRS, which Republican candidates spent much time bashing during the 2016 primary, with one candidate even taping an ad where he put a chainsaw through a copy of the tax code; the EPA, which, despite being founded by a Republican, has now become a favorite punching bag of elected Republicans who have been bought by the fossil fuel industry, especially Trump; and the Interior Department, namely the Smithsonian and National Parks, and we all know how much Republicans hate free government services not specifically tailored to a particular class of individuals. It’s almost as if everything Trump and the Republicans had been fighting for in the previous Congressional session and had been unable to fully realizea lack of environmental protection, a lack of taxation enforcement and the halting of government services that don’t exclusively serve their “pro-business” agendacame to fruition during the government shutdown. Under those circumstances, what incentive would they have to reopen government and return to the regular order?

Unfortunately for the GOP, they managed to forget a key fact of any economic system, perhaps because they’ve spent so long trying to get the rest of us to forget it too: at the end of the day, everything hinges on the workers showing up to work. And if they don’t, or if they begin to organize, then the whole system will come swiftly grinding to a halt. And that’s exactly what happened. Don’t let Trump fool you: he didn’t cave to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer because of his compassion for the government workers who were going without pay or the food stamps recipients who were going hungry. He caved because at the end of the day, the GOP cares about money and symbolic economic figures like GDP growth above all else, which is exactly what was put into jeopardy the moment airport workers decided not to show up to work. Which all goes to show that Democratic politicians alone are not enough to force the GOP into submission on issues that virtually everyone in the country agrees upon; progress requires that the workers and average people of this country stand up for their own interests and for a government that is democratic, proactive and functional. Otherwise, there’s no telling how long they’ll keep the government closed next time.