Moving The Needle
Published January 17, 2019 / Updated August 7, 2020

Moving The Needle

The Future History of the Shutdown

by Chris Thomas

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Photo by Kent Pilcher on Unsplash

It’s January 17th, 2019; the shutdown is 27 days old. In that time it’s cost the United States something on the order of 4.6 billion dollars. Much of the federal workforce is staying home and those that are coming in — from air traffic controllers to the US Coast Guard — are doing so without pay.

It’s Getting Worse

Tomorrow, on Friday the 18th, US District Courts will stop hearing civil cases. On Monday the 21st, the United States will be unrepresented at the World Economic Forum in Davos. On the 25th, federal workers will miss their second paycheck and on the 28th, IRS agents will be ordered back to work (without pay) to start processing tax returns and issuing refunds.

The next day, January 29th, Mr Trump is scheduled to deliver the State of the Union address to Congress… or he was until Nancy Pelosi uninvited him.

That’s just January. In February the impact of the shutdown spreads to small-town America. Among other shutdown consequences, we’ll see rural rent subsidies dry up in early February and the SNAP (food stamp) program is due to run out of money towards the end of the month.

In March the US debt limit expires, shortly after that the United States defaults on its debts, the dollar craters on currency markets around the world, and then things get really bad. Hopefully it won’t come to that, but there’s scant hope that things will get better anytime soon.

After all, there are a lot of reasons this shutdown has dragged on as long as it has.

How We Got Here

If Donald Trump was elected to office on any one political platform it was “build that wall.” Trump’s base wanted a wall then and they want one now. If he goes back to the GOP in 2020 without one, winning his own party’s nomination, much less reelection, is going to be an uphill fight.

If Nancy Pelosi’s House Majority was elected into office on any one political platform it was “nuts to everything about that Trump guy and his stupid wall in particular.” Most freshman House Democrats are still moving furniture into their offices so they’re unlikely to seek a compromise and the polling data seems to support that instinct.

Quinnipiac — January 14, 209

Which means this shutdown isn’t going to end anytime soon.

Where We’re Going

Both Democrats and Republicans agree that the shutdown is bad but they each blame the other for it. Consequently, it is unlikely to end until something moves the needle, not on how bad it is but on the perception of who’s fault it is.

Quinnipiac — January 14, 209

In this, Democrats have both an advantage and an uphill fight. The shutdown began, after all, under a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and a Republican President. The swearing in of the 116th Congress reset the legislative process but Pelosi’s 116th House rapidly passed stop-gap legislation “similar to the [bill] that passed the Senate in December without dissent.” That puts the ball squarely in Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s court, but, so far, McConnell has been unwilling to bring anything to a vote in the Senate that faces a Presidential veto.

No vote, no veto, no possibility of a veto override, no end in sight.

If Democrats can tell that story and tell it convincingly then, as the damage from the shutdown mounts, the percentage of Republicans and Independents who blame the GOP should rise. As that happens it should create pressure on the Senate Republicans, especially those facing reelection in 2020. They, in turn, can threaten to replace McConnell as Majority Leader in order to force his hand. If that doesn’t happen, however, there’s no reason for McConnell to capitulate so long as Trump holds out.

While Democrats need to educate the entire country about how Congress works, however, Republicans need only wait and hope that some spectacular tragedy occurs which can be pinned on illegal immigration across the Southern Border.

Meanwhile, the shutdown continues and March 1 draws inexorably closer.

Tell Congress What You Think

Mitch McConnell may have the power to end the entire shutdown right now but he won’t do that unless he feels pressure from the rest of Congress. You can ask your Senators and Representatives to add their voice to those demanding McConnell allow a vote by sending Congress to Resistbot on Facebook Messenger, Telegram, or as a Twitter direct message. If none of those work for you, you can write your government about this or any other topic via good-old-fashioned SMS: text RESIST to 50409 to get started. It takes 2 minutes to do something great.

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