The federal government shutdown at midnight last Saturday and reopened Monday after Senate Democrats capitulated by allowing the Continuing Resolution to pass without any concessions from Republicans on DACA. Sure, it was not anything like the nearly 600 days of horse trading that went on in Belgium from June 2010-December 2011, but most people find government shutdowns due to continual brinkmanship, to be exhausting.
There are plenty of problems with the way Congress legislates in this day in age. One such problem is the inane Congressional practice of passing a continuing resolution, also known as a CR. The way a CR works is that because Congress cannot agree on a budget, they vote to impose last year’s budget on the current fiscal year. The entire government is therefore funded in one bill. If the CR fails to pass then the government shuts down, or at least the parts deemed non-essential.
This process leads to every department and agency’s budget being tied up with every other department and agency’s. The natural consequence of this process is that no department or agency’s budget can be too strictly analyzed. Do you have a concern about ever-rising levels of non-defense spending? Don’t try too hard to fix the problem or you will be accused of preventing the troops from getting paid.
The problem the Democrats ran into is that what they wanted concessions on DACA, which has nothing to do with funding the government. While watching Republicans play Chuck Schumer like a fiddle will always be great fun, that does not mean that the current budget process is one to be applauded. As it is, the multi-trillion dollar federal government is funded all at once, allowing politicians to sneak their preferred pet projects into the bill because they know it “has” to pass. This is also why politicians try to attach unrelated things, such as DACA, to the CR.
A proper budgeting process would see each department and agency funded on its own. There is no good reason the Defense Department’s budget should be tied in with the Commerce Department’s. They have nothing to do with each other. It also would mean that when Congress cannot agree on a budget, that the effects would be mitigated. If Congress cannot agree on budget for the Commerce Department, at least the troops will still get paid, because the Pentagon’s budget was already passed.
In 2013, the Obama Administration clearly wanted to make life as miserable as possible during the shutdown to suit their own political purposes. It was not necessary to block World War II veterans from visiting open air memorials built in the their honor, but Team Obama did it anyway.
The effects of government shutdowns are mostly over-exaggerated. 2013 was a real life example of Washington Monument Syndrome. However, they can be exhausting, not to mention that passing CRs year after year does nothing to improve the state of the country’s finances. There are plenty of government departments and agencies whose budgets could use a serious examination, but as long as they are tied in with “must-need items”, they never will be.