My question is Why?

I found out that numerous presidents have shut down the government when they were unable to reach an agreement with the Legislature. Presumably the disagreements were all about funding.

Additionally, I found out that if the funding is not approved, the non-essential personnel are forced into a furlough or they simply do not get paid until a funding resolution (maybe not the right word) is reached.

Still, a legitimate business doesn't lay off workers when the CEO and the Board of Directors reach an impasse over accounting, or do they?

Q1) Keeping in mind the political ramifications, what advantage(s) do politicians get by doing this?

Q2) And, what can we, as members of the voting public, do to change this?

  • 7
    The CEO and Board of Directors have a common goal: making a profit. Plus firing a CEO is easier than impeaching a President, alas. A better analogy might be to corporate management and unions: unions will go out on strike, management will sometimes use worker lockouts as a negotiating tool...
    – jamesqf
    Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 5:35

2 Answers 2


Usually? A government shutdown is used to force the other political party's hand on a legislative issue by causing the public noticeable harm such that they pay attention to the issue at hand (usually grouchily). The first shutdown came in 1976 when Gerald Ford vetoed a bill to fund the Departments of Labor and Health, Education, and Welfare because he felt they were wasteful of taxpayer dollars. Almost all presidents have used it ever since to get legislators in 'trouble' if they don't support his priorities. It costs a lot of political capital to use, but it's very effective.

Today? Trump ran on a platform of essentially burning everything to the ground and starting over, so his political capital works a lot differently than other presidents. His base sees a bunch of bureaucracies that aren't easily identifiable as benefiting them directly, so they feel those bureaucracies should not exist. So while him starting a shutdown will destabilize the markets (making the old-school Republicans hate him) and fuck up public services (making the Dems hate him), his base is actually going to see this as a win, as Trump has figured out a way to stop 'feeding the beast', and could possibly starve multiple federal agencies out of existence.

What can we do to change this? There really isn't anything we can do without amending major portions of our existing system, including the Constitution. If we got enough public support for something that massive, we'd probably focus on:

  1. Repeal the 1884 Antideficiency Act.
  2. Tie lawmaker salaries to passing all essential funding bills in a timely fashion.
  3. Disallow riders on funding bills.
  • 1
    You suggestions on how to change this aren't really practical - they're not changes that the voting public can enact directly, and they both run afoul of the Constitution. (The ADA or something like it is required, and there's no way to affect Congressional salaries mid-session.)
    – Bobson
    Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 14:32
  • 3
    There aren't any practical, easily-enacted solutions. In lieu of just saying 'there are none', I posted directions we'd have to go. I will make that more clear.
    – Carduus
    Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 14:46
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    Lawmakers are often (though not always) wealthy - telling them they can't have a paycheck for a few weeks really wouldn't be a significant hardship.
    – David Rice
    Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 15:53
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    Re "making the old-school Republicans hate him", I think you can also add just about everyone who had significant money in IRA/401k plans. Trump's shutdown is also different from most past ones, in that it's a direct result of Congress refusing to spend money on his pet project.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 21:39
  • 1
    Funny enough, I still run into people who don't even know the government has been shut down. Seems to prove something about the belief that some of those bureaucracies shouldn't exist.
    – Dunk
    Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 0:53

What is gained by shutting down the government?

There is nothing to be gained directly by closing down the government however this is simply what happens when the president and congress can't agree on a budget. This is a product of the fact that as spending has not been agreed to spending required to keep open various government functions hasn't been agreed and without funds they must cease.

Keeping in mind the political ramifications, what advantage(s) do politicians get by doing this?

It's all about applying pressure the various factions in congress want their share of the budget to spend on the things they feel are important and the president wants money for the things he promised to get elected (currently the border wall). To get this congress can apply pressure to the president by proposing a budget that won't be satisfactory for the president and the president can reject the budget until he is satisfied.

Eventually one side will decide that the functioning of the non essential parts of the government is important and will agree to some concessions. For the president this is an excellent opportunity to look like he's played hardball to get his spending policies through and then pass the buck if he fails.

What can we, as members of the voting public, do to change this?

Not much. One potential option to limit the occurrence of the shutdowns would be to ensure the president and congress are of the same party. Additionally it may be possible to campaign/lobby for some kind of shutdown insurance scheme so more of the government can continue to function.

  • 3
    "president wants money for the things he promised to get elected (currently the border wall)." I believe the promise was that Mexico would pay for this project.
    – BobE
    Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 14:57
  • 1
    @BobE be that as it may a number of news agencies are reporting that the current shutdown is at least partly about funding the wall (such as NYT and Independent) Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 15:20
  • 2
    that may be, however I was pointing out that the promise was that Mexico would pay for the wall, not the US taxpayers.
    – BobE
    Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 17:46
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    @SteveSmith Just pointing out, currently the President and Congress are of the same party.
    – David Rice
    Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 19:09
  • 1
    Although the shutdown is well within the president's options, it appears this will violate the FLSA laws as the Federal Employees's Union is now suing the government. This happened before, so I wonder why anyone would subject the government to further liability (Double damages, punitive damages, etc.).
    – Dave H.
    Commented Jan 5, 2019 at 18:59

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