We’re in the midst of another federal government shutdown, initiated after Congress sent President Trump a bill to fund government operations that didn’t include as much money as he wanted to build his beloved border wall. He refused to sign it, and without the money many government operations ground to a halt.
Congress members, including Trump’s Republican allies, didn’t seem to care. Instead of staying and trying to hammer out a new spending plan that the president would sign, they simply went home to begin their holiday vacations on Dec. 22. Simply put, no one panicked.
With good reason: Government shutdowns, once a strong threat that drew lawmakers back to the bargaining table, has become overused. It’s become the political equivalent of holding your breath until you turn blue.
U.S. government operations have shut down 22 times since 1979, three times in the past year alone.
Most people probably didn’t notice many of them; most have lasted just a few days, some just a few hours. Two of them were for extended periods, in 1995 and 2013.
Now think hard: Do you remember the shutdowns? Did they affect your lives significantly?
Probably not, primarily because most vital functions are excepted, including law enforcement, in the name of maintaining public safety. Airports, prisons, Customs and Border Patrol will continue to function. Some of the workers might not get paid until after the shutdown when the money is available, but their work remains assured.
Most entitlements, upon which many people depend to fund their daily lives, also will continue. Social Security, welfare, food stamps and unemployment, for example, should be paid.
Some agencies are at least partly funded by user fees or special allocations, so they might continue to operate until the money runs out. So people who wish to visit local federal parks, especially those who have paid to hunt at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, should call to find out if they’re still operating.
And of course, government officials consider themselves vital; the president and Congress members will continue to get their paychecks throughout any shutdown period.
Embassies and consulates should remain open although they will be understaffed. The State Department has announced that it will continue to issue passports and visas as long as there is money to support the activities.
So it appears that this time around most Congress members are willing to call the president’s bluff and they don’t fear public backlash because of it.
Still, the situation needs to be monitored. If the standoff continues for a significant time, some partially funded offices could run out of money and have to shut down at some point. And President Trump continues to threaten to shut down the Mexican border. If he actually follows through on that threat, the Rio Grande Valley, which depends so much on trade, tourism and casual shoppers from Mexico, would be devastated — and our national economy, which benefits from more than $200 billion in trade with Mexico, also would take a big hit.
Perhaps this latest government shutdown can serve as a learning experience; more of us might realize that aside from taxation and regulation, the government might not play as big a part in our daily lives as we might believe. Maybe we don’t need to feel so much angst over the silly squabbles going on in Washington.