The news stories on the current government shutdown are composed almost entirely of quotes from various lawmakers who want nothing more than to try and cast the blame on each other and on the President. After all, there were three perfectly good compromise plans (they say), and if only there were effective leadership and reasonable people on the other side of the aisle, we could have picked one and got on with our lives.
What they all carefully avoid mentioning is that a shutdown is arguably better than us passing yet another continuing resolution.
Let me explain, and then you can tell me if you agree.
For over a decade now, we’ve been operating without a full budget. Instead, we’ve been making do with temporary reauthorizations, individual spending bills, independent tax packages — each on its own an accomplishment and a step forward, but most designed to not be permanent.
Among other things what this means is that the Department of Defense is forced to spend money building main line battle tanks that they don’t need, but it’s unable to allocate more funds to the maintenance of carrier air groups and upgrading drone strike capabilities. The Housing Department is compelled to continue outdated and redundant assistance programs that were due to be phased out under the next budget — twelve years ago. Every year, Agriculture spends money on research that has already been completed instead of allocating the funds to something that might actually be useful.
In short, for a lot of programs, the Federal Government might just as well be taking tax money and throwing it away.
In any vast bureaucracy, change will come only slowly, so this is a problem that in some ways is unavoidable. It may be that Housing and Labor, for instance, will each develop an independent program aimed at solving the same problem, and only after they’ve begun will it come to anyone’s attention that there’s a bit of waste. The trouble is, we’ve accumulated more than a decade’s worth of dead weight like this, and as long as we keep going the way we now are, there’s no solution in sight.
Now, I can’t honestly say that a government shutdown will make the task of creating a revised Federal budget any easier, or that it will bring a long-term solution any closer to reality. In the past, this sort of thing has mainly been used by lawmakers to provide more mud for the slinging in the next election, and according to what you read or hear in today’s news it doesn’t look like that’s changing at all this time around.
But maybe, just maybe, if the American people get upset enough that we aren’t actually fixing the problem, our representatives will be forced to act like statesmen for a change.