Government shutdown hurts the economy. It also paralyzes the entire operations of every government agency, all services from the national to the local levels. Furloughed employees will not get paid, offices are closed, and there is imminent chaos in the streets and within the government itself. The adverse impact goes down the line to the millions of low-income and marginalized families dependent on federal-state programs in all 50 states. Does it happen everywhere? No, it only occurs in the so-called mighty bastion and model of democracy, the United States of America!
Twenty times – this is the number of government shutdowns in the US since 1976 (says Washington Post), mainly due to deep partisanship and heightened bickerings between the Republicans and the Democrats over fund use. The federal state declares a government shutdown if there is no legislation on the federal budget. Fortunately, this week a compromised stop-gap contingency bill for 45 days averted the work shutdown in government at the last minute on the day of the deadline. But at what cost. The same day, the congressman who brokered a deal to break the impasse between the Republicans and Democrats was ousted as House speaker by his own partymates.
The problem, according to American sociologist Robert Bellah, is that US politics dwell so much on individualistic culture, guided not by a collective sense of responsibility but by a belief that emphasizes individual achievement and self-fulfillment. That is why their motto is, “It is us, not them,” focused on the “unlimited opportunity always to compete.” Bellah advised that this has got to change in the face of growing homelessness, rising unemployment, and impending ecological disaster in “our homefront.”
In a quickly called Zoom meeting this morning, my US-based high school batchmates who have been living in America for decades shrugged off their shoulders in desperation. Along with millions of other concerned Americans, they earnestly monitored the congressional debates. A government shutdown means that federal-state social security, critical health care, especially food, nutrition for children and senior citizens, low-cost housing programs, safety services, and short-term loans on which they depend will stop in all 50 US states.
The impact would depend on how long the shutdown lasts and program-by-program contingency funds. The most extended shutdown was during Donald Trump’s term in 2019 after a gridlock on his demand for a US-Mexico border wall funding that did not sit well with the Democrats. Trump finally signed a bill to reopen the government after 45 days without his demand being met. His ratings dropped during the shutdown.
Who loses, who gains
The shutdown of business operations is essentially different from the shutdown of government. The Pandemic caused the shutdown of almost all businesses worldwide. All countries were affected. But for compelling reasons of survival, governments of different political systems continued to operate.
Typically, a business suspends or terminates its operations for various reasons, like safety, security, or financial incapacity. The affected customers have options to choose from other companies to patronize. In a government shutdown, however, its entire operation with public funding ceases, including research and development work. Government shutdown is an American-style democracy, which harms the general welfare of the citizens and disrupts the economy in the long run. People are powerless to do anything. During budget debates, everyone invokes the need for effective ceiling cuts. The opposing party wants cuts on spending for bills that the other party opposes. It has become a negotiating strategy for the powerful president and his political party to railroad and insist on their demands for their perceived priority budgets. But for whom?
A collective program
It is here where well-meaning citizens and public interest groups participate. Fighting over how the budget is used and for whose interests is a legitimate public discourse. Everyone would agree that the government budget is people’s money- the taxpayers, service users, and citizens. One way to achieve inclusive and responsive public finance is to prioritize public goods such as education, healthcare, and social security. Bickerings and debates over how public money should be used is due to a lack of understanding of “who we are” and the need for a unifying universal program.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted in 2015 by all United Nations Member States, including the US and the Philippines, is a collective document, a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. By involving citizens in the budget process and promoting transparency, accountability, and democratic decision-making, governments can help achieve the SDGs’ goals with a transparent, accountable, and responsive funding system that addresses the rights and interests of the public. Such can be a better way to avoid talk about government shutdown: Just shut up, implement the SDGs and get down to brass tacks!