Thuillier: The government shutdown was a useless self-inflicted wound

Marcus Thuillier, Op-Ed Contributor

On Friday, the government shutdown came to an end after 35 days. Over 800,000 government workers get to be paid for their work again. It has been a long and tedious road to get to a point where our president and his cabinet have finally decided to fund the government. It would be easy to write about this as another partisan issue, but I won’t. To me, this is not about Republicans versus Democrats — it’s all about a dysfunctional governmental mechanism that is uniquely American.

The recent government shutdown is yet another example of something the United States could easily fix but doesn’t want to. Parliaments in other Western democracies also have a say on deciding the country’s budget, yet “constitutions or political systems prevent scenarios that would be comparable to the U.S. impasse,” according to The Washington Post. This problem is fairly new too, as it only started happening during President Jimmy Carter’s administration. In 1980, then-Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti issued an opinion on the Anti-Deficiency Act of 1884, requiring “agencies to terminate operations when appropriations expire.” Now, government shutdowns are fairly normal, occurring 20 times since 1976. Considering the human and financial cost those shutdowns incurred, the American government should be held accountable for creating a problem and refusing to solve it.

These government shutdowns have a dramatic impact on both furloughed government employees and those impacted by the closed agencies. Regardless of where one stands on the ideological spectrum, one cannot underestimate the impact shutdowns have on those workers. Between the employees at home without pay and those forced to work without pay (over 450,000 as of Jan. 16), missing even just one paycheck means some of those 800,000 employees will not be able to pay their mortgage or insurance bills or, even worse, pay for basic necessities like food.

The prolonged shutdown also caused major national security issues, such as threatening the safety of air travelers or national cybersecurity. Shutdowns ultimately cost the U.S. money — two walls’ worth of money. According to The New York Times, the shutdown ended up “costing the United States economy $11 billion,” which is almost twice as much as what was initially requested by President Trump for the border wall.

Other countries do not suffer from any of those specific shutdown problems because of the established and powerful mechanisms they have in place. In Europe, Belgium survived 589 days in 2010 and 2011 without a government and was still able to pass budget resolutions and pay its federal workers. Yet another example is Germany, where failure to pass the budget just means “the most recent budget usually continues to apply and is administered by the previous government that is in place until a new leadership takes over,” according to The Washington Post.

Government shutdowns are inherently inefficient and costly. The United States is a country that has enough resources to survive regular shutdowns, but this should not be the norm. This country has ultimately decided that the livelihoods of its government workers were not worth enacting basic safeguards against shutdowns like many other countries have. If these shutdowns continue, the government will continue to hurt the people it is supposed to serve, regardless of who is in charge.

Marcus Thuillier is a first-year graduate student. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.