|Besides, “even if the Senate is able to assemble and pass a temporary spending measure in the next few days, it is uncertain whether [House Speaker Kevin] McCarthy would even bring the legislation to a vote,” adds The New York Times. “Doing so would be likely to provoke a formal challenge to his hold on the speakership, presenting him with a choice between keeping the government open or igniting a fight for his job.”
So what? What’s wrong with a government shutdown? This whole fight is about more than just McCarthy keeping his job; people ostensibly depend on the federal government to provide services that matter to them, or so the argument goes.
Of course, a shutdown doesn’t actually mean the federal government fully grinds to a halt (be still, my heart); instead, services deemed nonessential are suspended (like Food and Drug Administration inspections; administration of Medicare and Social Security programs but not actually cutting the checks) while services considered essential (air traffic control, border protection, law enforcement, maintaining the power grid, that dreaded IRS with its new infusion of cash from that time Congress singlehandedly stopped inflation with a well-named bill, and a long list of other things) carry on. Federal employees get temporarily furloughed, with backpay paid later.
In short: Not all that much actually happens, and an astonishing number of government programs are considered essential. In some cases, the calls as to what’s “essential” vs. “nonessential” are bizarre: WIC gets shut down but SNAP continues issuing benefits, for example.
There are some knock-on effects to such disruptions. During the 2013 shutdown, for example, people were turned away en masse from national parks which resulted in lost revenue and a funding crunch later on. During the 2018–2019 shutdown, a lot of TSA agents and a few air traffic controllers refused to show up for work, which created major travel issues and shut down all of New York’s LaGuardia airport for a time. Generally speaking, though, government shutdowns don’t affect people’s day-to-day lives as much as some in the media claim and, since so much of the government stays running and so many government employees end up still getting their paychecks, they’re a bit of a misnomer.
In fact, I have some candidates for agencies we could shutter (forever): the TSA, with its 80-95 percent failure rate at detecting explosives and weapons, would be a great candidate. (Just saved the government $10 billion annually.) Maybe the Environmental Protection Agency, which keeps trying to regulate carbon emissions and power plants to little effect, and which stands in the way of controlled burns. (Just saved another $10 billion, you’re welcome).