The Shutdown Surprise


This Friday, America’s hastily improvised $3.6 trillion federal government will once again face the possibility of a “shutdown.”  The last continuing-resolution Band-Aid is due to expire at midnight on April 8.

House Speaker John Boehner has been telling his caucus to make plans for a shutdown, even as the Republicans try to sell another temporary extension that would push doomsday back by a week, and squeeze another $12 billion in cuts out of the Democrat spending junkies.  It’s good that we’re dragging these little squeals of fiscal responsibility out of the Democrats, but I really hate this notion of running the government on the edge of a perpetual shutdown crisis.  It strikes me as a betrayal of the very concept of government, which implies careful management, especially when conducted on a trillion-dollar scale.  Also, it’s delaying our complete engagement in a difficult, and vital, debate about the size and scope of government, which we should have begun years ago.

Some accuse Boehner of engaging in political theater by instructing the Republicans to batten down the hatches, but shouldn’t every sector of the government be prepared for the possibility of a fiscal crisis on Saturday morning?  An interesting piece in the Washington Post tells us the Obama Administration has not been making such preparations, and the public unions are not happy about it.

It would appear the Administration has decided not to “tell federal workers who would be sent home and who would be told to keep working.”  The presidents of various federal employee unions call this “inexcusable,” “disrespectful,” and “totally incredible.” 

It certainly does seem reasonable for the government to tell its employees who should prepare for possible layoffs on Saturday.  During the last two shutdowns, in the mid-90s, hundreds of thousands of employees were furloughed.  Given that even less budgeting has been finalized this time, the coming shutdown could be much worse.

Why would the Obama Administration enrage its powerful public union allies – and anyone else who expects our massive government to respond to such a looming crisis with something other than wide-eyed surprise – by failing to prepare such plans?  It’s not as if they’re afraid to spark some kind of panic by releasing them.  On the contrary, Obama and congressional Democrats are working very hard to create just such a panic reaction.  They’re fond of telling people that Social Security checks will suddenly stop coming if the government “shuts down.” 

My guess is that they’re not preparing those lists because they don’t want the public to learn which employees in our massive public sector – now double the size of our manufacturing industry – are “non-essential.”  Democrats are heavily invested in the idea that government shutdowns mean vital services go into cardiac arrest.  They don’t want to specify the people who might be furloughed if there is no budget agreement, because they don’t want to face inconvenient questions about whether we really need all of those people on our payroll, collecting those fantastic collectively-bargained benefits.

The Obama style of leadership is the complete absence of leadership.  That means no hard decisions, no concessions to fiscal reality, and no responsible preparations that could make a crisis less politically useful.  We should not only demand detailed plans for a government shutdown now, but insist on such plans being drafted and made public at all times, even when Congress finally gets around to passing an actual budget.  We should never stop requiring this huge and flabby government to weight itself in, and measure its body fat index.