The fear with respect to our latest "government shutdown" is amazing. The hysteria peddlers using this terminology, and the media that purposely play to it, must know these two words emit such an extreme emotional response. It appears designed to frighten the least informed either for or against the other political party, thus the terminology and subsequent blame game.
So what does a government shut down look like? Do the president and vice president resign now that the government ends? No, they stay on the job and receive full pay as before. Does Congress fly out of Washington, D.C., the following day and cease to draw their pay, and the Supreme Court cease to deliberate on constitutional questions? Does the army come home and cease to protect us? No! No, No! Do states, counties and cities no longer function? No again, they have their own tax base, and cops, prisons and teachers remain in place. Will I still get my mail? Yes. The U.S. Postal Service functions as an independent business unit. Will I still get Social Security benefits? Yes! And food stamps? Yes. And unemployment compensation? Yes. And veterans' benefits? Yes, at least until late October. And will there still be a functioning federal school lunch program? Yes, at least through October ("66 questions and answers about the government shutdown," USA Today, Oct. 1).
There will never be a government shutdown because none of these things will ever happen.How do we know this? Because we have had 17 government shutdowns since 1977, according to the Congressional Research Service. The Reagan administration had eight of them alone. Because in 1979 the government was shut down for 10 days while Congress argued over a proposed salary increase for the legislative branch. Because we had a five-day shutdown between Nov. 14 and Nov. 19, 1995, and a second one of 21 days, between Dec. 16, 1995, and Jan. 6, 1996, and none of the bad things mentioned above happened. Not even one. In fact, the public barely noticed.
The federal government put non-essential government workers on furlough and suspended non-essential services. Essentially all went on as before except some paychecks were a few days late. Apparently the federal government does know what non-essential services are, after all, and is capable of closing them.
So at worst a government shutdown is really only a partial shutdown of non-essential services and a delay of payment for some few federal workers. So the federal government goes on a long overdue diet and gets back to the basics. This is precisely the Tea Party position ("cut it or shut it") and the reason few actually fear a shutdown. If you have a budget of $3.7 trillion for a given year and you have taxes covering only $2 trillion during the same time, simple math tells you that either you double taxes or cut half of your expenses. You simply can't keep increasing the national debt, now almost $17 trillion, which has been laid on the backs of our new slaves--our children.
When you have cancer you must surgically remove the infected tissue. Of course it is painful, but the longer you wait the more painful, drastic, and life threatening it becomes. Most of the programs cut in both the last two government shutdowns were not areas of clear constitutional authority as defined in Article I, Section 8, so in time such cuts should become permanent or those areas need to be authorized in the amending process in Article V of the U.S. Constitution.
Usually diets have some benefits in and of themselves. In the case of the shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, both parties benefited: Democrats, under President Bill Clinton, because thereafter he was credited with the first four consecutive balanced budgets since the 1920s and Republicans because they retained control of both houses of Congress largely because of the popularity of their hard line.
So, a government shutdown is really only a partial slowdown that may actually be healthy. Let's call it such in the future so that we don't frighten the less informed.
Harold Pease, PhD, has taught history and political science for over 25 years at Taft College. Reach him at www.LibertyUnderFire.org.