Congress’ latest game of chicken — this time over whether to build a new wall at the country’s southern border — resulted in yet another government shutdown last week.
So far, the local impacts of the partial shutdown have not been particularly dramatic: Yellowstone National Park and Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area generally remain open, though visitors will find all the Park Service facilities closed and no maintenance workers in sight. Meanwhile, furloughed federal workers are getting a longer-than-expected Christmas break while a slim few, such as those with the Transportation Security Administration in Cody, are still on the job.
The longer the shutdown goes, however, the more significant the impacts will be from the numerous projects that are idled.
But regardless of when this shutdown ends, it’s already gone on too long: This simply should not happen.
As U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told the Casper Star-Tribune on Friday, “Shutting down the government, even partially, never benefits anyone.”
Beyond making markets uneasy and generally grinding our government to a halt, shutdowns are maddeningly wasteful.
Assuming Congress acts as it has in the past, all federal workers will eventually get paid — even for the hours that they weren’t allowed to work while they were furloughed.
After a 16-day shutdown in 2013, federal workers were paid around $2 billion for work they didn’t do during the shutdown, according to estimates from the Obama administration. (For context, $2 billion would represent more than a third of the funding that House Republicans are currently seeking for the wall on our southern border.)
One would think that the wastefulness and general embarrassment would be enough to spur Congress to avoid a shutdown, but here we are in the third one of 2018.
Congressional budgeting has turned into a Hollywood-style game of chicken, in which Republicans and Democrats giddily race toward each other on a imaginary one-lane highway. In an actual game of chicken, one of the participants would eventually wisen up, swerving to avoid the oncoming collision. After all, who wants to destroy their vehicle or risk serious bodily injury?
But in Congress, of course, the equation is different. Our representatives and senators seem unconcerned about blowing through our tax dollars like play money, because they apparently think a shutdown is a great way to score political points.
For example, incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., issued a joint statement blasting Republicans.
“... Instead of honoring his responsibility to the American people, President Trump threw a temper tantrum and convinced House Republicans to push our nation into a destructive Trump Shutdown in the middle of the holiday season,” they said in a statement.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., placed the blame in the other direction.
“It is time for the Democrats in the House and Senate to stop playing political games and do their duty by voting to provide resources to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, drugs and human trafficking across our southern border,” Cheney said.
Setting aside the current border dispute, the underlying problem with shutdowns isn’t with a particular party, but with an entire Congress and president who seem to think it’s acceptable to idle hundreds of thousands of federal workers and burn through millions of taxpayer dollars.
We continue to think it would be best if Congress wrote the federal budget in a way that doesn’t include fiscal cliffs and shutdowns. There are multiple ways the problem could be fixed.
For instance, members of Congress would probably be less likely to shut down the government if federal workers went unpaid for any hours they’re furloughed. How would a senator or representative vote if they knew their failure to act would cost them and their staff their next paycheck?
Alternatively, it would seem fair for Congress to consider acting like a utility: If the government fails to stay up and running for 99 percent of the time, perhaps citizens and businesses should be entitled to a partial refund of their taxes.
Of course, there’s always the truly crazy idea: that our federal lawmakers could try copying what we do in Wyoming by putting together a balanced budget and then sticking to it.
Anything would be an improvement.