According to Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution, “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.” When one or both Houses of Congress fails to pass a bill, or Congress and the president can’t come to an agreement on a bill, to fund the operations and agencies of the federal government, a government “shutdown” can occur. That can result in federal workers’ being furloughed and “nonessential” government services’ being suspended.
This has happened seven times since the current budget and appropriations process began in 1976: three times during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, once under George H.W. Bush, twice under Bill Clinton, and once under Barack Obama.
The three major government shutdowns were November 14–19, 1995; December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996; and October 1–16, 2013. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers were furloughed each time. And the government made sure that the National Parks and the Smithsonian museums were closed, lest the American public not even notice or care about the shutdown.
The specter of a government shutdown is looming once again, since funding of the federal government expires on Friday, December 8. But in a recent appearance on Fox News Sunday, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the third-ranking Republican senator, stated, “There shouldn’t be any discussion about shutting down the government. We can make this thing work. We just need to get people at the table, negotiate it. I think the president’s bringing the leadership in the House and the Senate to his office later this week to do that.”
Although the federal government’s fiscal year 2018 began on October 1, 2017, Congress failed to pass its annual twelve appropriations bills to fund the government. Instead, it passed, and Donald Trump signed into law, the “Continuing Appropriations Act, 2018 and Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Requirements Act, 2017” (H.R.601) to temporarily fund the government “at the levels of, and under the terms and conditions of specified FY2017 appropriations Acts, reduced by 0.6791%.” The bill also “suspends the public debt limit through December 8, 2017,” and “increases the limit on December 9, 2017, to accommodate obligations issued during the suspension period.”
Since then, the House passed the “Make America Secure Appropriations Act, 2018” (H.R.3354), which combined eight remaining appropriations bills with the four previously passed bills, and the national debt surpassed $20 trillion.
Contrary to Senator Thune, there should be a discussion about shutting down the government.
The federal government’s annual budget is currently about $4 trillion. When Thune talks about making things work and negotiating he is talking about how a small portion of this $4 trillion will be spent. Democrats and Republicans are united in agreement about the vast majority of federal spending. What is never discussed is the constitutionality and legitimacy of all federal spending.
The federal government contains a myriad of agencies, bureaus, corporations, commissions, administrations, authorities, and boards. Some are independent (e.g., SBA, USPS, NASA, CPSC, CFTC, CIA, FCC, FTC, Ex-Im Bank, Peace Corps, NEA, NEH, NSA, FEMA, EPA, USAID), but most are organized under fifteen departments: Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs.
Most of these entities should be completely and permanently shut down, their funding and activities ended, all of their assets sold, and all of their bureaucrats laid off. Since the Republicans in Congress seem to never know where to begin to actually cut spending and drain the swamp, let me offer some suggestions from the full spectrum of the federal budget.
It’s time to shut down the Department of Education. The Constitution nowhere authorizes the federal government to have anything to do with education. The government should not fund anyone’s education or regulate education in any way. That means no Pell Grants; no student loans; no research grants to colleges; no government accreditation; no Title IX; no special-education, desegregation, diversity, or bilingual-education mandates; no Head Start funding; no Common Core; no math and science initiatives; no Higher Education, Elementary and Secondary Education Act; no school breakfast or lunch programs; and, of course, no Department of Education.
It’s time to shut down the U.S. empire. The Department of Defense currently functions more as a Department of Offense. The United States has more than 1,000 foreign military bases and stations troops in more than 150 countries. The U.S. military fights senseless foreign wars and engages in unnecessary military adventures. The U.S. military budget is higher than that of most of the world’s industrialized countries combined. Having a strong national defense doesn’t mean that the United States needs foreign military bases, U.S. troops deployed on foreign soil, entangling alliances, or an interventionist foreign policy.
It’s time to shut down the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The federal government spends tens of billions of dollars every year enforcing its drug laws, incarcerating Americans for drug possession or “trafficking,” seizing drug shipments, eradicating marijuana fields, and maintaining an army of armed bureaucrats in the DEA. Yet the war on drugs has done nothing but destroy financial privacy, erode civil liberties, needlessly swell prison populations, turn law-abiding Americans into criminals, fail to reduce drug use, and ruin more lives than drugs themselves. But since the Constitution doesn’t authorize the federal government to wage war on drugs; classify drugs on a schedule; concern itself with the eating, drinking, or smoking habits of Americans; or ban any substance, the war on drugs should immediately be ended and the DEA shut down.
It’s time to shut down the NEA and NEH. Together they have distributed more than $11 billion through more than 200,000 individual grants over the course of the 50 years they have been in existence. Yet, the federal government’s funding the NEA and NEH is blatantly unconstitutional. The government should not subsidize art and culture for the simple reason that it should not subsidize anything. Ordinary Americans should not be forced to provide welfare for cultural elitists. Funding for art and culture should be strictly voluntary.
It’s time to shut down the Department of Agriculture. The Constitution nowhere authorizes the federal government to have anything to do with agriculture. No department, no agencies, no research, no subsidies, no loans, no guarantees, no inspections, no aid, no relief, no assistance, no lunch programs, no dissemination of information. Nothing. Not even the food stamp program, which is the largest expense of the USDA.
It’s time to shut down USAID. This is the leading U.S. government agency that dispenses foreign aid. The U.S. government provides some form of assistance to more than 150 countries. Billions and billions of dollars have been doled out since World War II. Foreign aid is just the looting of American taxpayers. And with poverty, unemployment, and crumbling infrastructure here in the United States, it doesn’t even make any sense for the U.S. government to send taxpayer money overseas to alleviate those things in other countries. And if it is illegitimate for the U.S. government to dispense welfare to its own citizens, then it is certainly inappropriate to bestow welfare on foreigners. No American should be forced to “contribute” to the aid of the people or the government of another country. All foreign aid should be individual, private, and voluntary.
It’s time to shut down the Department of Homeland Security. When the government failed on 9/11 to protect the country, Congress responded by creating a new federal department of Homeland Security. But since we already have a Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security should be shut down and the Department of Defense restricted to actual defense. The worst part of the Department of Homeland Security is its Transportation Security Administration (TSA). But since the Constitution gives the federal government no authority to provide security for businesses, airports and airlines should handle their own screening and security.
Those things are just the tip of the iceberg.
The Constitution delegates certain limited powers to the federal government. Every other legitimate purpose of government is left up to the states. Every unconstitutional and illegitimate agency and department of the federal government should be shut down. It really is that simple. The time is now.