Federal Government Shutdown Theater, 2018 Edition

Following the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, politicians in Washington, D.C., returned to Capitol Hill to engage in what has become a different kind of ceremonial performance, one that’s become something of an annual tradition since passage of the 1974 Budget and Impoundment Control Act: federal government shutdown theater.

Stop me if you’ve heard how this goes before. Nearly every year, after politicians serving in the Congress are unable to come to an agreement on both how much money to spend and on what, they run into an artificial deadline that they set up many weeks earlier, after which, without a spending deal, the nonessential agencies that employ about 20 percent of federal government bureaucrats may be closed for business.

If they reach a deal before that artificial deadline, then nothing happens. If they don’t reach a deal, those agencies may be closed for up to one to three weeks until a “miraculous” compromise is reached that involves the federal government spending more money on more things. The furloughed bureaucrats go back to work, where they get fully paid for all the hours they didn’t work while being on furlough, with their “unscheduled” time off not counting against any of their generous vacation benefits.

During the nearly annual performance, some Americans are inconvenienced by the closure of federal agencies, but the wide majority of Americans would never notice if not for all the hysterical screaming by the arguing politicians and their supporters that fills the screens of today’s outrage-loving, ratings-driven media.

Johnathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger of The Hill described the unique elements being featured in the 2018 edition of federal government shutdown theater ahead of Congress’ return.

Congressional leaders are back on the clock today after the state funeral for former President George H.W. Bush provided a brief respite from partisan politics in Washington.

Now it’s back to reality, and a looming government shutdown with billions of dollars for a border wall hanging in the balance.

A handful of federal agencies will run out of money on Friday at midnight and be forced to close unless Congress passes a new spending deal.

The House and Senate are expected to vote today on a two-week continuing resolution that would keep the full government funded until Dec. 21.

President Trump has verbally agreed to the short-term fix but has threatened to shut the government down if a long-term spending package doesn’t include $5 billion for a border wall. Democrats have said they’re open to providing about $1.6 billion in funding for border security.

The drama that proceeded to play out in this matinée performance was about whether we will have another, more dramatic episode in two weeks as the artificial deadline is moved. And then, we can enjoy another performance of federal government shutdown theater right before and perhaps during the holidays, when many federal government bureaucrats might otherwise be off on vacation.

This way, however, if the federal government does close its nonessential agencies, the furloughed federal government employees can all count on getting paid for not working while not losing any vacation time. In that sense, it’s a backdoor bonus program, one that elected officials in Washington D.C. seem all too eager to go along with to benefit the bureaucracy’s non-essential employees.

Craig Eyermann is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute.
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