As far as I know, I have repeatedly heard a conservative stance arguing in favor of reducing government spending. But, at the same time, it appears as though politicians from across all aisles want to avoid a government shutdown. If conservatives don't support government spending, why wouldn't they approve of a government shutdown and purposely try to instigate one as often as possible?

What reasons have prominent conservatives given to justify ending the shutdown and how do they reconcile that end with their desire for reforms that reduce spending?

  • 7
    Those who "don't like government" are not anarchists -- they want to see government activities reduced in an orderly manner.
    – Thomas
    Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 21:40

6 Answers 6


The shutdown doesn't really save the government much money. The pay that is currently being withheld from exempted employees is guaranteed to be paid to them once the funding is there, and Congress has always voted in the past to send back pay to the non-exempt employees as well, and has indicated it will do so again now. Besides that, while the shutdown is occurring any services that the government is currently procuring from private industry have to be put on hold unless the service itself is exempt, but of course the contracts are already funded for the whole period of performance, so the government is effectively throwing money away on those contracts.

Really, there isn't very much money saved by doing the shutdown. Note that everything listed here could be exempt anyway and ignore the lapse in appropriations. New purchases are not being made, but will probably be made immediately after funds become available. Contracts that expire during the shutdown similarly won't be renewed until after the shutdown is over, but will still probably be renewed as normal. In theory, there might be less of an upkeep cost to the facilities while there are fewer workers using them, but I doubt there's any significant costs that can be reduced there.

Depending on the wording of the Congressional approval for back pay for non-exempt employees, the back pay could only be paid if they don't quit while they are furloughed. So, if the shut down lasted long enough, it would effectively force employees to find other work and forfeit their back pay. I'd imagine no politician wants to come out in favor of not paying government employees so long that they are forced to quit to start making money again. Since most government contracts have 1 year periods of performance, if the shutdown lasted a whole year it would run out most of the non-exempt contracts, which could save some money. This particular concept requires a very long shutdown and probably wouldn't end up saving that much money though, since many services are likely exempt (or whatever the term is for approving obligating funds for a contract when there is a lapse in appropriations).

  • 3
    Correction - the pay always has been restored, in the past, as a matter of fairness and politics, but there's nothing that says it has to be, or that it will be. Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 18:20
  • 1
    @PoloHoleSet Edited to make that clearer. Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 18:54
  • 3
    @IllusiveBrian It's not just that it doesn't save much money - it ends up costing much more than had it just remained open.
    – David Rice
    Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 19:05
  • Your first statement is incorrect. In past shutdowns, federal employees who were affected were given back pay by acts of Congress. Federal contractors (about 40% of the people working for the government) did not receive back pay in any shutdown. In the 2013 shutdown, many of the people I work with effectively had a 4% pay cut for the year.
    – doneal24
    Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 17:39

Consider an analogy: You may not like the idea of private cars, and think there ought to be a decent mass transportation system for everyone. Still, in the current world, there isn't a mass transit system where you live, so you pretty much have to commute to work by car. How would you feel about another '70s-style oil embargo?

The conservatives might not like some aspects of government, but they generally want those parts they don't like removed in an orderly fashion. The "shutdown" is pretty much across the board, also affecting things that conservatives do want.

Another factor is that it's a temporary shutdown: when it ends, all the backlog, from missed paychecks to undone paperwork to trash piled up in national parks, will have to be taken care of, probably incurring extra costs.


A shutdown is bad for people, people who are voters. Politicians want to stay on the good side of voters because at some point they will be up for re-election. If conservative politicians are perceived to have caused and prolonged the shutdown then some voters who faced negative things because of it will remember and vote for someone who opposed the shutdown.

Just some examples of why a shutdown is bad:

Federal workers don't get paid during the shutdown. As such, they may have trouble paying their bills.

National parks are closed. If you had planned a trip to visit one, you may not be allowed to enter.

This article by Time lists some more consequences which may be considered burdensome by voters.


The premise is incorrect that conservatives "don't like government" or are altogether against government spending. Conservatives oppose "Big Government", or in other words, government trying to reach objectives that are not legitimate functions of government. Examples include college aid, welfare spending, and funding abortion. None of these fits into the framework of the Constitution, which specifies the roles of federal government as "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity". Funding unnecessary and overreaching programs foments division, not union. Justice is best served by upholding equitable and fair laws, not by giving handouts. These programs are antithetical to conservative values, which explains why conservatives would work hard to keep the legitimate functions of government running and are OK with spending to keep them running (national defense, justice, legal review, law enforcement) but strive to interfere with activities that are not legitimate (spending taxpayer dollars on welfare or college aid, which is in effect buying partisan votes using non-partisan funds, etc.). Conservatives strive to stem such programs to prevent runaway bloat and expansion of illegitimate functions, while focusing on the need to maintain the essential functions of government.


Very few people oppose the concept of a government, so a government shutdown doesn't really benefit anybody. Conservatives dislike some of the scopecreep that's happened, but they generally have some things they support - things like DHS, the FBI (until recent years?), the courts, police, military, etc. It strikes this liberal as a bit odd that conservatives tend to support the more aggressive parts of the government while also often trotting out the line that "When governments fear the people, there is liberty.", but some hypocrisy is inevitable with any sufficiently large political movement.

  • Conservatives support LIMITED government, not the plethora of alphabet agencies and abuse of power it tends to turn into. It's liberals who favour the idea of all powerful government agencies that can and do tell everyone what to do in minute detail.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 9:23
  • @jwenting That's really not what liberals want any more than conservatives want an all-powerful police state where the police have complete authority. Nobody is helped by demonizing and strawmanning the other side.
    – David Rice
    Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 16:45

Although Republican politicians may wish to avoid a government shutdown it's not very apparent that conservative voters care very much. It appears to me that politicians on both sides of the aisle do not really reflect the will of their voters. Take term limits for example. That issue seems to be universally agreed upon by most Democrats and most Republicans, yet politicians in both parties refuse to even discuss the issue.

In fact I have heard many conservatives say that they would back permanent closure of many of the redundant Federal Executive agencies for the purpose of reducing waste in spending, but you never hear any politicians mention it. Those in power, irrespective of party wish to preserve their power and the bureaucracy is their shield, the protection of their power and influence.

  • 2
    Only the first sentence of this answer seems to really address the question. The rest goes on a tangent about topics which are unrelated.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 4:16
  • 1
    @Phillip the "tangent" as you call it is an example. The point is that although Republican politicians or any politicians for that matter don't represent the desires of the voters, in this case conservative voters, which answers the question: "If conservatives don't support government spending, why wouldn't they approve of a government shutdown and purposely try to instigate one as often as possible?" Go on social media on any conservative voter's timeline & you will see that they do in fact favor a shutdown, while republican politicians don't. So no the topics aren't unrelated
    – Aporter
    Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 7:54
  • 1
    If we equate conservative with registered Republican, then of the 31 states that register voters by party, only one - Wyoming - has enough registered voters to win a Senate election without attracting at least some independent voters.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 8, 2019 at 5:41

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .