Well, here we are: Out from under one government shutdown and possibly just three weeks from the next. If that seems like deja vu, that’s because government shutdowns have become increasingly common of late.

After the pair of shutdowns under Bill Clinton, we went the next 17 years without one before conservatives forced an ill-advised shutdown in an attempt to defund Obamacare. Since then, there have been three funding gaps under Donald Trump, with two leading to the furlough of federal employees.

This latest shutdown felt different in a number of ways, though. It was by far the longest in history, lasting more than a month and causing hundreds of thousands of federal employees to miss multiple paychecks.

The longer it went, the greater an effect it had on the economy as a whole: As federal employees went without pay, the money they would have spend didn’t go back into the economy.

While financial institutions and charitable organizations tried to assist them, and they’ve been promised back pay, they have struggled to make ends meet. That’s not fair to them and their families, nor is it fair to the businesses who depend on their patronage and the citizens who need their assistance.

Even as many federal agencies were closed because of the shutdown, the laws they oversee and regulations they implement weren’t suspended. So, if you were trying to open a business that requires federal approval (like a brewery), you can’t just ignore the rules and go ahead. Instead, you have to wait.

That, too, will have a negative effect on the economy, as business development plans were put on hold all over the country because they can’t get the necessary permits or government-backed loans. All of these effects of the shutdown may be evidence for the argument that we need to shrink the size of the federal government, but this isn’t the way to do it.

For Maine’s congressional delegation, the shutdown represented a moment of both peril and opportunity. The situation may have been easiest for 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree to navigate, as she comes from a solidly Democratic district and trounced both of her opponents by a wide margin in her last re-election. Like many other House Democrats, she had little incentive to compromise. The battle over the border wall gave her the chance to highlight her opposition to the current administration, which will only increase her standing with her political base.

For the rest of the delegation, the calculus was a bit trickier. Having just won re-election, Angus King could rest a little easier – but if he plans to run again in 2024, he’ll have to worry about moderate voters all over the state. In his position, King is somewhat representative of Democratic leadership in the Senate, who have to keep in mind both their liberal base and their more vulnerable members from states Trump carried. Those Democrats, especially those up for re-election in 2020, were likely eager to support any compromise to reopen government.

Susan Collins, who must face voters next year, was likewise inclined to support compromises that led to the government reopening – that’s why she voted for both Trump’s proposal and the Democratic proposal to end the shutdown.

For Jared Golden, the situation may have been the trickiest of all. He generally ran as a moderate Democrat, including on border security issues, but found himself in a caucus making a stand against any funding for the border wall. He probably felt pressure from both sides: liberals who wanted him to stand strong against Trump’s wall and more moderate supporters who expected him to find a compromise.

Shutdowns are, fundamentally, a failure to govern. This one is over, but the border wall issue is still unresolved, and another shutdown could begin in three weeks if Congress fails to pass a long-term spending plan that may depend on reaching compromise on border security. How long that might take is anyone’s guess. Hopefully, though, the few remaining adults in Congress will step up and find the courage to propose a real solution to this mess that the White House and leadership can accept.

If not, perhaps we ought to return to the Monty Python method — strange women lying in ponds distributing swords — as the basis for our system of government.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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