The Gift Horse Of Government Shutdown

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Jennifer Grossman CEO, The Atlas Society
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For many, January is the time we pretend to live up to our New Year’s resolutions.

Just as some of us make a show of going to the gym or cutting back on sweets, Democrats make a show of threatening to shut down the federal government if whatever their demand-de-jour isn’t met.

Up now: The threat to shut down the government if Republicans don’t provide for some sort of legal status to the so-called Dreamers.

To which I say: Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Regardless of where you stand on immigration — wall up or open borders — the proper response to Democrat threats of government shutdown is:

“You promise?”

The short of it is this: If Congress doesn’t pass a bill to fund the government by January 19, the government will “shut down.” In order to pass such a measure, Republicans need at least some Democrats. But Democrats are refusing to support any such spending bill unless it includes legal status for the so-called Dreamers and Republicans refuse to do that without border security measures that Democrats so far say they will not support.

The president should view this not as a bind — but as a boon.

The Democrats are threatening something that libertarians have longed for, but have never had the political clout to carry through. If libertarian-leaning members of Congress can’t find the chutzpah to corral this Democratic gift horse, let’s hope President Trump brings his best bravado to the stand-off, and says “make my day” and not “make a deal.”

Remember the movie “Ruthless People,” in which novice kidnappers mistakenly “threaten” Sam Stone, played by Danny DeVito, demanding $500K in exchange for the life of his wife? Receiving the ransom demand, the husband can’t believe his luck. The Democrats have made the same mistake of thinking they are threatening to eliminate something their target values — in the movie, the overbearing wife, in reality, an overbearing government.

The befuddled kidnappers then have to regroup, and get creative. The ransom negotiations are short-lived — as any government shutdown certainly would be.

But what a demonstration it would be of just how many useless, when not downright destructive, functions government serves.

Despite the term “government shutdown,” it’s important to note that no such thing will actually take place. If Congress doesn’t pass a spending bill in the coming weeks, only about one-fifth of government expenditures will halt. And as we learned during every previous shutdowns, most people in America won’t even notice.

Sure, some people will notice. Certain government workers will be furloughed (but almost certainly paid retroactively). Some tourist sites won’t be accessible. The National Institutes of Health might even stop accepting patients for its cutting-edge treatments.

But for the most part, ordinary Americans who are not government employees will barely realize they are in the midst of a so-called shutdown. They will continue to be protected because military and law enforcement personnel will continue to be funded. Veterans’ hospitals won’t see their funding cut off, either. The mail will continue to be delivered. Even America’s budget-busting entitlement programs will continue on unabated.

So while the media might try to stir the pot in the beginning, highlighting the most extreme disruptions, after a week or two most Americans will tune it out when they see their lives go on as normal. If we’re lucky, they’ll take a moment and think, “maybe the government is at least one-fifth too big since I don’t even notice the one-fifth cut in spending.” That might even give President Trump and Republicans the political capital they need to push major entitlement reforms that are necessary but here-to-date politically unpopular.

Now it would be better to make targeted cuts than having an untargeted government shutdown. But a government shutdown might actually get that conversation started about getting us to a smaller, more sustainable government. Something more like what the Founders envisioned when they wrote the Constitution.

Jennifer Grossman is the CEO of the Atlas Society and a former presidential speechwriter. She was also Senior Writer for the National Commission on Economic Growth and Tax Reform and author of its final report, “Unleashing America’s Potential,” in 1996.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.