Government shutdowns are the new abnormal

As you wake up this morning to the sight of armies of zombies and/or killer robots roaming the spoiled landscape of our formerly beautiful nation as it crumbles under a partial government shutdown, brace yourself. It won’t be over anytime soon, at least in the opinion of most media observers. The Senate has adjourned until Thursday and there’s not much point in bringing the House back into session unless Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer work something out that will not only be agreeable to the House but can garner a signature from the President. Is that going to happen? Don’t bet your Christmas stocking on it. (CBS News)

It’s official: The government will be partially shut down through Christmas. Washington remains deeply divided and nowhere near a resolution of the shutdown that began early Saturday morning, with all sides now anticipating the impasse will continue into the first weeks of January, Ed O’Keefe reports.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced shortly after 3 p.m. Saturday that there is no deal, and the Senate is adjourned until Thursday, Dec. 27. The White House and Capitol Hill have made little progress towards finding a compromise — President Trump is demanding $5 billion for his border wall, and Democrats insist they won’t give him any of that funding. The government partially shut down at midnight Friday.

Mr. Trump will remain in town for Christmas. He was supposed to go to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

While I’m not saying that we can just cancel the government entirely and get on with our lives, the fact is that the roughly 25% of the federal bureaucracy that’s currently on hiatus isn’t exactly crippling the nation. As for all of the government workers who won’t be getting a paycheck… yes, that stinks. I’ve had to live through that a few times myself over the course of my life, even while working in the private sector. But we should also remember that pretty much every single one of these workers will have their pay fully restored as soon as the government is back in business. And it will reopen, even if it takes several weeks.

Rather than continuing to play the blame game, perhaps a better question to tackle is whether or not this is the new, default state of Washington. Keep in mind that this is actually the third time the government has shut down in the past year. This also isn’t some new phenomenon that only began when Donald Trump took office. We’ve been playing this game for quite a while now.

The underlying reality of all this, along with many other signs of “dysfunction in the age of Trump” that cable news talking heads love to go on about, is that Donald Trump isn’t a cause for any of this. He’s a symptom. Remember that President Trump didn’t seize power in Washington by force. He was elected by a majority of the voters in enough states to hand him a sweeping electoral college victory. And it’s not as if he’s acting any differently now than he did on the campaign trail. America knew what they were getting when they elected Mr. Trump and plenty of us still don’t have a problem with that decision to this day, even if we find some of his unpredictable decisions distressing at times.

These standoffs between the two parties in Congress leading to brinksmanship and “radical” changes in the normal order of business didn’t begin with Donald Trump. The gradual erosion of the filibuster is a prime example. Our legislative branch was probably never the collection of unflappable ladies and gentlemen with impeccable manners that we envision when we think of “the good old days,” but over the past couple of decades, it’s certainly gotten worse. Congress now looks far more like two packs of wolves circling the carcass of a recent kill.

We don’t have a shutdown because of Trump’s demand for border wall money. That’s certainly the headline item in most media coverage, but the underlying fight consists of far more than that. The border wall is only a symbol and a rather flimsy one at that. Not long ago, Democrats were in favor of spending money to improve border security. The only reason they aren’t supporting it now is that the Republicans want it. You can go down the list of budget priorities and legislative goals and find dozens more examples. Each one holds the potential of shutting down the government again in the future. That’s not because these issues spell the success or failure of the nation. They’re just something to fight about and show the two respective bases that the fight continues.

Absent some sea change in the way the two parties interact (an impossibility as far as I can tell), regular temporary shutdowns of the government are the new abnormal. And they’ll be happening long after Donald Trump has cruised off to retirement.