The second US government shutdown in weeks proves that the system is broken beyond repair

James Moore
Congress struggled yet again to pass a budget bill on time: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Having already put up his feet once this year – only three weeks ago in fact – Uncle Sam has just finished his second vacation. And you thought Americans didn’t get time off like we work shy Europeans.

The shutdown of the US Government this time around was mercifully brief for those in the unfortunate position of working for it.

The failure of the US Congress to pass a deal to fund its operations meant it ran out of money at 12.01am, only for the taps to be turned back on in the small hours before dawn broke over Washington DC.

The bill that was finally agreed extended the country’s debt ceiling and showered a staggering $165bn of extra cash on a Pentagon which must be wondering what to do with the stuff. You mean you’re lighting that cigar with a ten dollar bill? Here, take a fifty!

In addition there was $131bn more for domestic spending, mercifully including children’s healthcare, disaster relief, community health centres, infrastructure and other programmes.

Republican national security hawks are the big winners. Their donors will be positively cock-a-hoop. Deficit hawks less so, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul in particular. His manoeuvrings played a big role in the brief shutdown. However, having passed the Trump tax cut his beating the drum for fiscal rectitude has to be taken with a very large pinch of salt, as critics were quick to point out.

The Democrats, and their restive left wing in particular, have far more reason than he has to be angry. They really didn’t get much out of this. The money for community health centres and children’s health insurance has been characterised as a win for them. But if you consider that the failure to fund those programmes would have made the Republicans look like monsters, it isn’t the victory it might seem to be.

Meanwhile, the status of the so-called Dreamers – undocumented migrants who arrived in the country as children and had their protection removed by President Trump – continues to remain up in the air, despite an eight hour speech in support of them by the senior Democrat congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.

Ironically their plight briefly put left wing Democrats on the same side as right wing Republicans in opposing a deal to reopen the Government. The irony will be a bitter one for them because they got nowhere.

At least America’s Government employees, who went to bed worrying only to wake up to the news that they would be able to turn up to work with the certainty of getting paid, will be able to enjoy their weekends. By which I mean, employees in “non-essential” occupations. Park rangers and more besides.

Those involved in national security – US troops for example – don’t have to worry about their car loans when these increasingly common events occur. Putting their earnings at risk would be a step too far even in America’s toxic political climate, and so they always get paid.

With President Trump pledging to sign the bill into law – over Twitter of course – those not in that position can look forward to a measure of stability, at least until next Autumn, which is when a new Congress might get the chance to repeat the process.

America’s system of Government was designed to encourage bipartisanship, and the sort of deal making in rooms that would have once have been describe as smoke filled that today’s candidates for office like to rail against.

It cannot effectively function without compromise, and yet achieving that is getting ever harder. The process was under way well before Trump launched his hostile takeover of the Grand Old Party. He has only accelerated it. The midterm elections look sure to add still more fuel.

As a result America’s deficit is going to balloon. Making tough decisions is all but impossible in the current crisis.

But the US can more easily kick the can down the road than, say, Britain, because it boasts the world’s reserve currency and China will led it as much money as it needs to ensure that there’s a market for its goods. At least for now.

So America has waved goodbye to fiscal conservatism. Its “non-essential” employees must wish they had the same luxury because Uncle Sam will surely have another vacation coming, and they will surely have more nervous nights worrying about their wages and their bills.

It’s just a matter of when.