Reader: Playing the shutdown game 


The most recent threat of a government shutdown is about funding the expansion of the border wall with Mexico. But shutting down the government is hardly a new idea.

The media often covers the battle over shutdowns like a sporting event. It's President Barack Obama's strategy in the battle with House Speaker John Boehner, or creating fear on the opposing side, or changing the playbook and adjusting the game plan. Sounds a lot like a football game on TV.

But it's not entertainment for regular Americans who are paying the price and suffering inconvenience. While it's hard to estimate the total cost of a government shutdown, the Office of Management and Budget made a serious attempt to do so in a study of the 16-day closure in 2013:

• Federal employees were furloughed during that shutdown for a combined total of 6.6 million days, costing taxpayers more than $2 billion for public services that could not be performed.

• The closure reduced U.S. economic growth, costing the economy between $2 billion and $6 billion during the period of the shutdown.

• Public services normally provided to citizens and businesses were dramatically affected, delaying almost $4 billion in tax refunds, preventing hundreds of patients from enrolling in clinical trials, delaying home loan decisions for 8,000 rural families, and slowing the pace of small business contracts with the Department of Defense by 40 percent.

The budget brinkmanship that spawns most government shutdowns is nearly always wrapped in high-sounding phrases relating to important issues. The battles are purportedly about "securing the border," "saving taxpayer money," "protecting the unborn," "helping business grow," "creating jobs" and so on.

But when the shutdown finally ends, the outcome is predictable: The big, important issues are not resolved. That's because such issues are not, at their cores, budget issues. The budget battle serves as a symbolic skirmish — creating smoke, sound and fury — while avoiding deeper issues.

So perhaps it's time to stop punishing the public for the sake of greater party power, political bragging rights or the gratification of congressional or presidential egos.

Government officials exist to solve public problems — not transfer them to the citizens through shutdowns.

— Jim Griesemer, Professor and dean emeritus, University of Denver

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