by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
One of the lessons of the Trump–Pelosi standoff on border security is that government shutdowns are a foolish way to resolve partisan disputes.
But the other lesson may be far more important. The partial shutdown, with agencies such as the Transportation, Agriculture, and State Departments, as well as other independent agencies, closed for business, demonstrated how irrelevant so much of our $4 trillion government is to the everyday lives of Americans.
As I traveled over the last several weeks to Florida, California, and many states in between, and asked people what they thought of the shutdown, many said they didn’t even know the government was shut down for more than a month. Their everyday lives were disrupted or inconvenienced only, if at all, in a trivial way. It turns out there are countless Americans who don’t watch CNN or MSNBC and so didn’t learn about the supposed horrors of agency closures.
This was a particularly painless shutdown for the average taxpayer because the essential activities of government were mostly unaffected. Seniors got their social-security checks. The military was protecting us. We got through the airports with minimal delays — until the last week when some TSA officials and air-traffic controllers weren’t on the job.
It was also telling that the only real “victims” of the shutdown (about whom the media obsessed) were 800,000 government employees who were furloughed. Yes, I know many people in Washington who work for the federal government who faced financial stress for several weeks (and I also know many for whom this was a deferred-pay vacation).
But wait a minute. What is the primary purpose of a government program or agency? To give workers a paycheck? I thought these agencies were in business to serve the taxpayers and provide important services for our economy and our citizens.