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Shutdown? What Shutdown?

A Commentary by Fran Coombs

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

It’s Halloween, and it’s government shutdown time again. The media, President Obama and most members of Congress are trying to scare us all again with the threat of closing down the federal government unless the national debt limit is raised.

The president and congressional leaders are proposing a budget deal that would increase federal spending $80 billion over the next two years and raise the federal borrowing limit above the current level of $18.1 trillion. The debt ceiling which has been raised 78 times since it was set in 1960 has to be lifted again because the feds don’t have enough cash on hand to pay their bills after November 3.

In exchange, conservative congressional Republicans hope to get some modest budget reforms but none, of course, that will matter much to taxpayers like you and me. If these budget conservatives push too hard, after all, the other side will weigh in with the threat of – government shutdown.

Republican congressional leaders John Boehner and Mitch McConnell were quick to say from the start of the budget talks that there is no chance of a government shutdown this time around, but this didn’t endear them to some of their more confrontation-minded GOP colleagues.

This unwillingness to challenge the president and Democrats in Congress is one of the reasons Republicans aren’t upset with Boehner’s decision to step down as House speaker. They wouldn’t mind it if McConnell went with him.

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In reality, things like Social Security, Medicare, national defense and unemployment benefits continue uninterrupted during a government shutdown. It’s the things around the edges that get put on hold, and after a budget deal is reached, even the workers who are furloughed get their full back pay. So it’s an inconvenience but not a national calamity when part of the federal government is shut down.

Of course, the powers that be want to spend more and don’t want any interruptions, so they create a media profile of government shutdown that is nothing short of an apocalypse. They also go out of their way to inconvenience taxpayers by taking steps not dictated by the shutdown, doing things like closing national parks and engineering airport delays to make a shutdown seem much, much worse than it really is.

Still, it’s no surprise that in October 2014, one year after a two-week federal government shutdown during the last Republican-Democrat budget impasse, 82% of Likely U.S. Voters said the shutdown had little or no impact on them personally.  They were worried about the shutdown at first, given the headlines and the dire warnings, but as the months passed, the level of concern dropped noticeably.

Most voters have been telling us for years that they favor spending cuts in every program of the federal government, including the defense budget and entitlements.

Fifty-nine percent (59%) prefer a smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes over a more active one with more services and higher taxes. Just 30% favor a more active government. Support for smaller government has run in the low to mid-60s in most regular surveys since 2006. 

But Democrats like big government even if elected Republicans say they do not. Republicans and those not affiliated with either major political party, for example, are far more likely than folks in Obama’s party to think that too many Americans are dependent on the government for financial aid these days. Republicans, on the other hand, while championing budget cuts publicly, don’t think we spend enough on defense.

This helps explain why only 28% of all voters believe it is even somewhat likely that government spending will be significantly reduced over the next few years.  Just 18% think most congressmen care what their constituents think anyway.

The Declaration of Independence says that governments derive their authority from the consent of the governed, but only 25% believe that to be true of the U.S. government today.

The size of the federal government might be less of an issue if voters had more confidence in its work product, but right now just 19% trust the federal government to do the right thing all or most of the time.

But fear not, voters. The “terror” of government shutdown will be avoided; the debt limit will be raised yet again, and the government will keep on spending, spending, spending.

Fran Coombs is the managing editor of Rasmussen Reports.

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Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author at fran.coombs@rasmussenreports.com

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