The press is starting to beat the usual drums about the horror of a possible “government shutdown” Friday night if Congress can’t pass a budget or a stopgap spending bill. This does seems slightly unusual in that Republicans control both Congress and the executive branch, so what is there to fight about, unlike previous showdowns that pitted a Republican Congress against a Democratic president. I guess the Senate needs some Democratic votes, though I’m not much impressed with this problem.
This really is fake news of the highest order. Imagine: if the federal government runs out of money at midnight on Friday, the mail will stop being delivered, Social Security checks won’t go out, the military will stop fighting our enemies, the TSA will stop frisking grandma at the airport, local police won’t patrol the streets, public schools will close. . . Oh, wait: none of that will happen.
What will happen? “Non-essential personnel” in Washington will be told to stay home. If they’re “non-essential,” why not make that permanent? Social Security checks will continue to go out, our military will stay on post, etc. About the only thing that regular citizens might notice is that federal facilities will be closed. No trips to the Smithsonian, the Washington monument will be closed, etc.
There are something like 50,000 units of government in the United States, if you count all the local mosquito abatement districts, etc. State and local government will go on as usual—the level of government that most of us see and interact with the most. This is one glory of a federalist system—as attenuated as it has become over the last 75 years. It is the special conceit of Washington that a budget impasse there means that “government” is shutting down. If only! Lots of government—including many auto-pilot programs of the federal government like Social Security—will go on as if nothing had happened.
Phil Gramm remarked after the 1995 government shutdown against Bill Clinton that the mistake Republicans made was opening government back up again. Trump is just the sort of person who might take this advice to heart. Chuck and Nancy might want to think about that.
The point is, the “government shutdown” in Washington affects very little of the government that most of us see and depend on.