MCINTOSH: Do Government Shutdowns Affect Most Americans? Not Really

Saul Loeb/Getty Images

David McIntosh Club for Growth
Font Size:

Last week was different. For the first time in six weeks, the U.S. government was back up and running on all cylinders. But aside from TSA agents and air traffic controllers no longer calling out sick due to the “blue flu,” were the daily lives of Americans last week that much different than they had been in weeks past? The unconventional, but honest answer is the day-to-day lives of Americans’ didn’t drastically change.

So now that the shutdown is a week in the rearview mirror, what lessons can be learned? Frankly, probably lessons that we knew well before the shutdown even began. First, the federal government is far too big and bloated and doesn’t efficiently meet the needs of its citizens.

The shutdown demonstrated this in a couple of ways. On one hand, despite how large the government has become, the shutdown revealed how unnecessary parts of it are to sustain.

If anything, this prolonged shutdown demonstrated how well life could continue without a quarter of the government. And on the other hand, in the few areas where a lapse in government services did impact Americans, it provided a reminder that the private enterprise would be far better suited to carry out the tasks.

This should be a wake-up call for politicians to think of creative ways to limit the impact of government in the daily life of the American people. One example that I’ve previously written about is privatizing the Transportation Security Administration. But that’s just one among many areas of the federal government that should be privatized. There are plenty of other areas that the private economy easily could handle, creating better efficiencies, stronger accountability, and incentivizing innovation.

A second lesson to come from the shutdown is in the form of what’s not being discussed. Even as the conference committee meets, no one is talking about deficits and rising debt. If you really want to be depressed, consider this. The stopgap spending bill signed into law to end the shutdown and reopen government through February 15 omitted spending cuts that were scheduled to take effect. This leaves little hope that the grand bargain coming out of the conference committee will include any additional cuts if Congress is delaying ones already on the books.

What’s also unfortunate is the fight that never occurred with respect to the overall amount of funding for the government. Consider this: the only discussion had was over how Congress was going to spend $5.7 billion out of a total of $4.47 trillion. That’s .001 percent of federal spending — a tenth of one percent. Not a drop in the bucket, but a drop in the lake that we call total federal spending.

As Friday’s jobs report showed, our nation’s economy is booming. Further, during the government shutdown, the private economy remained strong. The private economy created jobs, unemployment remained low, inflation remained low, etc. Business investment was strong, and investor confidence in the markets was not negatively impacted on average over the 35-day period.

In defense of shutdowns here’s something you don’t hear often: government shutdowns save taxpayers money — a lot of money. On net, some estimates suggest shutdowns saved taxpayers roughly $300 million.

But the biggest lesson to learn from the shutdown is that Congress must get our nation’s spending under control. If we successfully decrease the size of our bloated government, the next fight over $5 billion might not be so consequential and maybe that $5 billion policy fight can be won. The big picture should focus America and Congress on trillion-dollar deficits and an out-of-control national debt that could push our nation over the cliff. That’s a real fight worth having to shut the government down next time. Here’s to hoping politicians in Washington can learn some of these lessons and not run scared the next time talk of a shutdown surfaces.

President Trump’s recent observation that the congressional talks are a “waste of time” may be prescient, but here’s to hoping it’s not.

David McIntosh is president of Club for Growth, a nonprofit group that advocates for limited government. He represented Indiana in the United States House from 1995-2001.

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