Stop Crying and Start Cutting

What's wrong with a government shutdown?


Did you know that those in the federal government—the folks who brought you $1.6 trillion of yearly deficits, brought you $14 trillion of debt, and make Elmo a reality—offer Americans 56 separate programs to help them better understand their finances? Where will these citizens go for sage advice if Washington shuts down?

With all the hand-wringing and self-defeating talk from Republicans about the political cost of allowing the federal government to shut down for a couple of weeks, there is a missed opportunity. What better way to illustrate just how little taxpayers get back on their "investments"? And what a great time to demolish the myth that even modest cuts would detrimentally affect most Americans.

Alas, it looks as if the Senate and House will agree to federal spending cuts of only $4 billion to avert a government shutdown for two more weeks. Republicans initially asked for $61 billion in spending cuts for the remainder of the year—in real terms, a pittance—which, according to many Democrats, would destroy a brittle economic recovery and kill thousands of jobs.

If you believe that stimulus spending creates productive, self-sustaining jobs, I suspect you're forced to believe that a lack of stimulus spending destroys those jobs. Democrats are relying heavily on the claim by Moody's Analytics' chief economist that 400,000 fewer jobs would be created (and saved?) by the end of 2011—and 700,000 fewer jobs by the end of 2012—if Congress were to cut $61 billion. Now, the Moody's forecast has been battered by a number of economists, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, a fan of stimulative efforts, dismissed those numbers, as well.

Who knows? Laymen like me can only rely on one scientific truth when it comes to economic forecasts: They're always wrong, except when by some fluke they're right. But it is tough to accept the idea that cutting back less than 1 percent of the debt-heavy budget could be detrimental to the economy. And according to a new Government Accountability Office report, there are hundreds of billions in bloated and duplicative programs Congress could cut before even having to take on entitlements, defense spending, or any supposedly invaluable programs.

The report found there were 18 federal food and nutrition assistance programs, costing taxpayers $62.5 billion in 2008. There was not one study to find out whether any of it was effective. The Wall Street Journal reported there are 82 federal programs to improve teacher quality. Silly, because according to unions, there is not one identifiably ineffective teacher in the entire country.

According to the GAO report, there are some 80 different economic development programs, which have probably created more jobs for bureaucrats manning the programs than they have private-sector jobs.

There are 15 different agencies overseeing food safety. Even though conservatives are pro-salmonella, food producers already have the greatest incentive of all to give us safe food, namely preserving their success and existence. So can't these programs, typically irrelevant and expensive, be at the very least streamlined?

When, as Democrats contend, cutting a single-digit percentage of the budget becomes an abdication of our duty, how can we ever get to $61 billion in spending cuts, much less a balanced budget? If half the government believes that creating debt is an economic stimulant, what are the chances of our ever dealing with national debt?

Any spending cut that does not involve defense (which should be on the table) induces Democrats to lament the inconceivable and imagined personal and economic toll Americans will suffer. The truth is that those who view nearly all government spending as not only a moral obligation but also economically advantageous don't really want to cut a penny.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post. Follow him on Twitter at davidharsanyi.


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  1. While I love the idea of a shutdown, personally, I think it’s a loser for the R’s in terms of public relations.

    Which is ultimately all these dicks will care about, so it won’t happen.

    More’s the pity.

    1. PS Also, think David H’s arguments here are particularly and unusually weak, for him. Try harder, David – you’re capable of a much better argument.

    2. Don’t believe all these fake democrat polls being put out about a possible shutdown. Most people wouldn’t care, and the ones who do would blame both parties equally.

      The problem is that the old pants-shitting, spineless republicans who have been inside the Beltway too long are stuck in a ’90s time warp. They truly have no clue just how much things have changed since then, both in the national media and in peoples’ awareness of fiscal reality.

      1. You’re right. The lefty press has been using suggestively worded poll questions to “prove” that Americans fear the “disaster” of a temporary shutdown. Most Americans are not anarchists, but they don’t believe that a temporary shutdown would be the end of the world. The media have changed since the last “disaster” under Gingrich’s House. People have more and better sources of information. The left’s stranglehold over the dissemination of news (and opinion) is over but, astonishingly, they don’t yet know it.

        1. The left’sauthoritarian’s stranglehold over the dissemination of news (and opinion) is over

          Working on restoring things back to their natural order.

      2. “Don’t believe all these fake democrat polls being put out about a possible shutdown. Most people wouldn’t care, and the ones who do would blame both parties equally.”
        Don’t kid yourself….this country is full of idiots.

    3. “Which is ultimately all these dicks will care about, so it won’t happen.”

      Yeah, I think one of the important points to consider here is that John Boehner is a poser!

      He’s on board with budget cutting because it’s the flavor of the last election cycle–but it’s just PR with him.

      There isn’t anything about John Boehner’s past behavior that makes me think he’s serious about cutting spending.

      Quite the opposite.

      He’s a poser.

      1. He’s a hoser!

      2. Yup – Boner’s a jackwagon.


        I have little hope for my country – just takin’ the ride down the old Roman slide to oblivion with everyone else, trying to prevent as much damage to myself and my family as possible on the way.

    4. I agree and that is why this country is fucked.

  2. Alt Text: “Dear Diary, I swear to Christ if the Oompa Loompa starts crying again, I’ll fucking punch him.”

    1. you’ll have to get in line because it will be just like in the Airplane movie, everybody wants to slap that crybaby

    2. I like this a lot

  3. If tehre is a shutdown, the longer it goes on, the better it will be for teh R’s. If it’s a day or two, the average joe won’t get the full effect. If it’s a week or more, and Armageddon doesn’t occur and the earth keeps rotating and revolving, average joe will realize how little need there is for bureacrats.

    And it would be a good time for me to take a vacation – it’s that long stretch between Preznit’s Day and Memorial Day.

  4. wow, he’s tan

  5. Remember how bad it was when the government shut down over the budget battle back in the 90s?

    Me neither.

    1. I couldn’t go “camping” at a federal park!

      1. Sure you could….it was free!

  6. It’s not going to happen

  7. I like Ron Paul’s idea of cutting a percentage off EVERYTHING. I think it would slaughter everyone’s sacred cows at once and since the average person’s only question when deciding whether they should back some political move or not seems to be “is it bipartisan?”, it might actually pass.

    1. That’s not really a good idea. When a company needs to cut costs by say, 5% in order to meet their earnings expectations, the smart ones run a risk register to determine what cuts are wise. Simply cutting 5% across the board can create undo risk in some areas and in other areas, no real impact. Better to cut less (if at all)in the case of the former and more in the latter.

      1. undue

        1. What do you gobble?

          1. Resources.

            1. I’ve got your resource right here!

              1. My, aren’t you the witty one!

      2. You actually think that a 5% cut on any government program would be akin to a cut in a “smart” business? Seriously? Do you think that smart businesses tend to have 80 separate departments that perform the same function?

        1. Well, you cut the 79 departments then. That would be more than just cutting 5% across all 80.

          But on the flip-side, you don’t cut 5% from say, oversight of nuclear weapons. Maybe only 2% or not at all.

          1. The government is bloated everywhere. There is nothing that couldn’t use a good trim. When you cut 10% of everything and voters realize nothing has suffered, then there might be the political will to cut those 79 departments or maybe all 80.

    2. One per cent wouldn’t slaughter anything. Twenty-five per cent or bust!

  8. Tenured Government TeachBot:

    “Remember, children, government shutdowns are evil, except when we do it.”

  9. Remember how bad it was when the government shut down over the budget battle back in the 90s?

    Yeah- little old ladies offering to take their teeth out and blow you, just for the chance to lick the paper wrapper from your Big Mac.

    Those were the days.

    1. Thanks for the visual.

    2. Seek help.

    3. Good times. Good times.

  10. Cutting a percentage off everything doesn’t really fix the problem. What is needed is sober thought as to what is a luxury and what isn’t.

    We really no longer need some of the federal programs. We really no longer can afford to have the massive duplication of programs and services.

    Better to cut and cut swiftly so the whiners on either side of the aisle haven’t the chance to organize a resistance to the cuts. Put them in, and cut deeply. Send Barry a budget with $150B in cuts and make him choke on that veto. Come back with a compromise that only cuts a $100B, and the Repubs come out looking sober and statesman-like.

    1. Cutting a percentage off everything doesn’t really fix the problem. What is needed is sober thought as to what is a luxury and what isn’t.

      How about something like this?

      Hold a special national referendum. The “ballot” is a list of every government program (down to some reasonable level of detail). Every registered voter gets to check Yes/No on “Luxury?” for each program. Cut each program by its (total yesses)/(total votes).

      1. Don’t care for democracy, which is what you are proposing. How about our representatives do the job they are elected to do, or we fire their asses, just like the last bunch.

        1. I was hoping someone would say that.

          Change “national referendum” to “session” and “registered voter” to “congresscreature”.


      2. Rich- I think that “ballot” would be the size of a phone book.

    2. …sober thought…

      And where, pray tell, does this mythical beast live?

  11. What’s wrong with a shutdown? Ask Newt Gingrich.

    1. Because what happened to an inept egomaniac, who was up against a political master almost 20 years ago is exactly what will happen today. EXACTLY.

    2. What’s wrong with herpes? Ask Alan Vanneman.


  12. The Republicans need to get ahead of the PR curve on this, “Shutdown” is a scary word. The Rs should propose a plan (call it the Fiscal Emergency Plan or something)to selectively furlough identified non-essential workers while guaranteeing that all SocSec, unemployment, etc. checks go out and essential government services are maintained.

    Which is exactly what happens during a so-called shutdown, but if you make it look like something other than an out-of-control unintended fuckup, you won’t take a hit for it.

  13. I’m all for a shutdown, but my daughter has her passport renewal in right now so she can go on her honeymoon. So, could they do this after she gets her passport back?

    1. You’re funny, Greer. Please keep ’em coming.

    2. Yeah it’s kind of messed up that the government can require you to obtain a document and then shut down the office that provides that document. To be fair, if they temporarily stop processing passports then they should also temporarily stop requiring them for travel. We’ll call it “Get in free day” or something.

      Of course, that would completely destroy the GOP base…

  14. “The Wall Street Journal reported there are 82 federal programs to improve teacher quality. Silly, because according to unions, there is not one identifiably ineffective teacher in the entire country.”

    I laughed.

  15. Cutting equally across the board is exactly the wrong thing to do, because we have to at least attempt to break the back of the collectivist/statist rallying cry that all government functions are equally essential.

    1. Nobody ever claims that except libertarians, to whom they are all equally unessential.

      1. Nobody ever claims that except libertarians, to whom they are all equally unessential.

        Which is of course why you land right on the fainting couch whenever any proposals to cut government programs are made.

  16. It’s funny, though. Democrats had a majority in both houses in September until January. They had plenty of time to go around the Republicans and pass the budget. But they put it off knowing that it would come to this. They were either banking on the Republicans caving (and breaking their campaign promises) or having a stalemate and a shutdown of government so they could place the blame on Republicans for being unreasonable. But I’m not sure the public will actually side with the Democrats if a shutdown happens. People should be continually reminded that the Democrats had ample opportunity to pass it, but they put it off hoping to see the Republicans “make a mess” one way or another.

  17. But I’m not sure the public will actually side with the Democrats if a shutdown happens.

    If its handled right, they won’t.

    To really get some good mileage out of it, the Rs should use the government shutdown protocols as a blueprint for spending cuts. Jeebus, the heavy lifting of separating essential fron non-essential has already been done. Use it, you gormless tools.

  18. Shutdown=Somalia!

    Have you people not thought of The Children?!

  19. Somebody please help me. I think Eric Cantor is hot.

    1. He farts just like the rest of us.

      1. Problem solved, thanks.

        1. For me, that just makes him so much hotter.

  20. I remember the shut down in the 90s. The sun still came up and I still had to go to work. The feds even charged me full income tax withholding on my check for that week even though they were sitting on their asses at home.

    IMO 99% of people who get up and go to work everyday and provide for themselves would never even notice a difference.

    Shut it down and not for a week for several months minimum!

  21. Budget cuts and tax increases are always difficult and have varying impact on consumers, as well as unintended housing market consequences. Additional consumer credit analysis and Moody’s Analytics’ Mark Zandi commentary is available at:…..ntist.aspx

    1. Anyone who would actually listen to that jackass is a complete fool. I wouldn’t take advice from Mark Zandi on what to get for lunch, much less on serious fiscal and economic issues. He’s been completely wrong on almost everything I can think of.

    2. So let’s see, Mark–a cut of $100 billion will cost 700,000 jobs, but spending $700 billion results in a 2% increase in the U3?

      Perhaps you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.

  22. “What’s wrong with a government shutdown?”
    They’ll just start it up again!

  23. If we don’t do something soon about balancing the budget, said budget will be eventually swallowed up by interest on the national debt, which is probably a huge chunk of the budget by now. When we have to start printing fiat currency just to cover the interest payments – because I don’t think you can pay with borrowed money – that’s probably when we’ll hit hyperinflation.

  24. It always amazes me that there just never seems to be enough money for the middle class but there is always a lot of cash for bankers and wall street … hmmm … maybe it has something to do with political contributions …

  25. Whoa…since when did you guys start doing game commentary?

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