Opinion: The shutdown is over, but how can we prevent such catastrophe in the future?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., signs a funding deal to reopen the government on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. The measure now goes to the White House for President Donald Trump to sign. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

After more than a month, the longest government shutdown in U.S. history is over. But for weeks on end there were 800,000 federal employees from nine federal departments who didn’t get paid. More than half of those employees were forced to work without pay.

Heartbreaking stories about the difficulties workers and their families faced poured in from around the country. But the economic stresses placed on federal workers and their families were just the tip of the iceberg.

The National Park Service has lost millions in revenue because of partial closures. The Federal Trade Commission was close and victims of identity theft had nowhere to turn. EPA pollutant inspections stalled. Ironically, tens of thousands of immigration hearings have been cancelled, and the Border Patrol wasn’t even being paid. The list goes on and on.

How did we get here? Back in December, facing the onset of a partial shutdown, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill to keep the government funded. This bill did not include any money for a border wall. Conservative commentators such as were furious, seeing little opportunity for border wall funds once Democrats took control of the House in January. They lashed out at President Trump who, fearful of the backlash from his base, promised to veto the bill unless $5.7 billion was promised for his wall. No funding bill ever made it to the president’s desk, and millions felt the effects of the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

Out of all the reasons to shut down the government, doing so because we have a narcissist who is terrified to lose the support of his base in charge of the country is one of the dumbest. Embarrassingly for the president, he did it all for nothing.

Negotiations will continue in the coming weeks, but with House Democrats standing firm against him his wall is effectively doomed. Additionally, he’s lost the good will of the same conservative commentators he bowed before a month ago.

Let me be very clear. Even if you think a border wall is the best thing since sliced bread, crippling the government and its workers is a cruel and immoral way to secure funding for it. That goes for any policy. I would love for universal healthcare to be codified into law, because I don’t think people should get sick and die because they aren’t rich. But I would never condone Democrats preventing government workers from collecting their paychecks and essentially blackmailing Republicans into backing such legislation. If someone wants a law to be passed, they can do it the old-fashioned way. That means no hostages.

Take a step back and think about the madness of it all. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Mexico supposed to pay for the wall? Besides, Republicans completely controlled the government for two years and they couldn’t get border wall funding. Now that Democrats are in control, Trump and Republicans chose to use hundreds of thousands of people as pawns in their sick political games.

With the government open (at least temporarily), the question becomes how to prevent similar crises from occurring in the future. The simplest option would to be to elect competent leaders who aren’t slaves to their own ego, but there’s no guarantee of that happening.

One idea I’m particularly fond of is declaring that during any government shutdown all members of Congress and the Executive Branch will not be paid. They should also be classified as essential employees, forcing them to come in to work every day. Furthermore, they shouldn’t be eligible for back pay, incentivizing them to fix things instead of sitting around and playing politics.

Others have floated the idea of using an automatic continuing resolution. This would keep the government funded based on previous levels if Congress fails to authorize funding. In fact, Senator Mark Warner from Virginia has introduced a bill to do just that.

If voters want to avoid the hardships that a government shutdown brings, then we need to start demanding action. Members of Congress must be be pressured to support bills that will prevent government shutdowns. And if they don’t comply then they should be voted out. We don’t need representatives who are willing to devastate the lives of innocents to achieve policy goals, especially foolish ones


Jacob Kowalski is opinion editor for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at jacob.kowalski@uconn.edu.