Government Shutdown: What's at Stake?

Capitol Hill with caution tapeThe U.S. partial federal government shutdown is now in its third week, creating ripple effects across the economy. With no clear end in sight, the situation is fueling rancor both on Capitol Hill and throughout the country.
 
Graduate Center Professor Charles Tien (GC/Hunter, Political Science), who specializes in studying American politics and Congress, spoke to The Graduate Center about the politics of the shutdown and its consequences.
 
Graduate Center: What are the political vulnerabilities for the Democrats in this shutdown?
 
Tien: On January 3, the Democratic controlled House passed a continuing resolution that is essentially what the Republican controlled Senate passed last session. Democrats now plan on passing individual continuing resolutions for different departments.
 
This shutdown is about what a border wall symbolizes in the Trump era, and a majority of Americans do not think it is worth shutting down the government over.
 
GC: The previous Congress, led by Republican majorities, failed to pass seven appropriation bills, which are still pending. Employees in these agencies (such as the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department) are currently furloughed. How much responsibility do Republicans bear for this situation?
 
Tien: Congress and the president are supposed to pass appropriations bills before the fiscal year begins (October 1 every year). On October 1, 2018, Republicans controlled the House, the Senate, and the presidency. This shutdown came about because Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and Donald Trump could not find a way to pass all the appropriations bills in a timely manner. Congress and the president shouldn’t get paid until everyone else does.
 
GC: Is this shutdown in any way advancing President Trump’s agenda?
 
Tien: Trump’s agenda has been to deliver on his campaign promises, it seems. Trump said his wall would be paid for by Mexico, so shutting down the government to make American taxpayers pay for a border wall of questionable effectiveness is a stunt to please his base.
 
GC: Do you think President Trump will blink and if so, when or at what point?
 
Tien: Every day we hear another personal story of how the shutdown is hurting Americans. Small business loan applications can’t be processed, tax returns may not be sent out, airport security lines are longer, furloughed federal employees all over the country are struggling to meet financial obligations over the holidays. At some point, Congress will get its act together and pass a continuing resolution to end the shutdown.
 
GC: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
 
Tien: This is a childish spat. Government shutdowns are failures in leadership. In the longest shutdown between Newt Gingrich and President Clinton, it was about Gingrich getting treated badly on Air Force One. Today Trump can’t get Congress to fund what he wants. McConnell can’t negotiate a deal with Trump so now he throws a temper tantrum by not doing anything. Our so-called elected leaders need to go read Profiles in Courage. If they won’t do their jobs, they should step aside and let others who can and will.
 

Submitted on: JAN 9, 2019

Category: Faculty | General GC News