Our View: Shutdown could cost taxpayers billions

The federal government has been shut down for nearly two weeks now, as President Donald Trump attempts to force Congress to spend billions on building barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Whatever you think of the “wall” issue, a government shutdown is not a good thing. It doesn’t help anyone accomplish their goals — unless their goals are to undermine the U.S. economy and erode citizens’ faith in their government.

You might think a shutdown saves money, but government shutdowns in fact have always cost money — and we’re not talking pennies. It’s estimated that a pair of government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996 cost the federal government $1.4 billion more than it would have spent without the shutdowns.

Why do shutdowns cost money? Government workers have to do extra work before and after such an event to prepare for and recover from a shutdown. They also wind up getting paid for the time they were forced away from work, meaning taxpayers ultimately pay their salaries but get no work in return.

Shutdowns also hurt the economy, slowing growth as government workers stop spending and government agencies stop providing services.

The ‘95-’96 shutdowns lasted for a total of 27 days. If the same estimated rate of cost from those shutdowns holds true, these last 13 days have cost taxpayers more than $1 billion (adjusted for inflation). But it may be worse than that — according to Politico, the cost of shutdowns has been rising, and a 2013 shutdown that lasted 16 days cost $2.5 billion in workers’ salaries and benefits alone.

Ironically, if there was any loose money available for building walls, it’s now being eaten up by the shutdown intended to force the walls to be built.

The financial cost of a shutdown is one harmful side effect of our elected leaders’ poor judgment and bad teamwork skills; the cost to citizens’ trust in their government is another.

The integrity of the United States as a country is perhaps its most valuable asset. It’s why our currency is the most coveted in the world; it’s why so many people from everywhere on the globe want to live here; it’s why we wield so much power on the world stage.

Shutdowns have a destabilizing effect on that integrity. They push regular citizens to distrust their leaders. They lessen our reputation with allies and enemies alike. They open the door a crack to fringe wackos whose anti-democratic ideas are usually marginalized.

If our leaders really cared about this country, they would avoid government shutdowns like you would avoid letting an armed thief take your family hostage. Instead, shutting down the government has somehow become an acceptable political move. That needs to change.

Politicians who allow a shutdown should feel ashamed. They should fear for the next election. That goes double for politicians who champion a shutdown as a good way to get what they want.