Policy Perspectives

Even when Congress is on its long, annual, August/September recess, they can manage to spoil the summer with threats of a government shutdown on October 1 unless a small minority of House members get their way.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have both called for a “continuing resolution” (CR), which simply maintains current spending levels until a new budget is passed, most likely at the end of the year as usual. But the House Freedom Caucus is insisting on some legislative measures which will never pass, as well as an ultimatum to drop all judicial proceedings against former President Donald Trump, even though they have nothing to do with government spending.

This would be humorous were it not potentially tragic. Government shutdowns are serious, affecting not only government workers who are involuntarily laid off, but businesses (like wineries) which depend on their services (such as timely licensing and label approvals) and individuals (like Social Security recipients). In addition, the threat of a shutdown typically rattles the stock market, threatening the retirement accounts of millions of Americans.

Even if the fall shutdown is averted, the same threatening scenario will likely recur in late December when legislators once again play chicken with the nation’s economy. The last time a federal budget was actually passed on time was 25 years ago during the Clinton administration. Given the hyper-partisanship in today’s DC, unfortunately that’s unlikely to happen again soon.