Law and Public Policy

Energy and Environment Program Director Weighs in on Another Agenda of the Government Shutdown

October 1, 2013  • David Monsma

In a new series that aims to promote the restoration of civil discourse, experts at the Aspen Institute weigh in on the consequences and policy ramifications — social, fiscal, and otherwise  — of the US government shutdown of 2013. 

In their second term, presidents consider their legacy. Will history judge them as average, good, or great? Congress, possibly because of its size, rarely asks itself this question. If the 112th Congress will be remembered for being infamously the least effective Congress in over 60 years, particularly after the last fiscal cliff debacle, the 113th Congress will be remembered by the laws it attempted to repeal instead of pass. Moreover, historians will point to October 1, 2013 as the day when the most insistent members of Congress attempted to reduce government the only way they know how, by shutting it down.

Today, news commentators will focus on the attempt by a quorum of House members to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. Although they can’t repeal it, no one should mistake the calculated political attempt by some members of Congress to intentionally reduce government using the camouflage of a “spending debate” to mask their true objective. Shuttering the government is an effective proximate way to reduce and hobble government when you cannot pass legislation to change existing laws.

Glib opinion makers and well-paid talking heads will focus on the debt ceiling debate. Meanwhile, the legislation attacking Obamacare also contains language approving the Keystone XL pipeline, expanding oil and gas access to federal lands and waters, allowing Congress to block major federal environmental regulations and preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from implementing new rules for carbon emissions by electric power plants. Policy riders such as a bill to eliminate the EPA coal ash rule fit well with the war on government in the guise of a debt ceiling or spending debate.

The government shutdown causing 800,000 federal workers to be furloughed is a political objective. A series of ongoing furloughs is one way to chip away at government. EPA workers, most of whom were sent home today, were already losing 9.9 days this year in what has been termed “a prolonged downward flight path.” Fewer EPA work days, fewer inspections, fewer health-based risk assessments equals less government. The most strident political tweakers in the House are not failing to pass legislation, they are succeeding in eroding government.