Belding: Threat of government shutdown should not be used to extract concessions

Michael Belding

Last week the U.S. House of Representatives

cut $60 billion from this fiscal year’s budget. This action was

surrounded by talk of a potential government shutdown when the

continuing resolution currently allowing government agencies to

spend money expires March 4. That shutdown would be the result of

an impasse between the House and the Senate. 

That impasse was encouraged by Rep. Steve

King, R-Iowa. 

He said that because of the public’s mood

demonstrated by last November’s election — one presumably in favor

of what the Tea Party have to offer — the recent budgetary

discussions are an opportunity to meaningfully change the spending

habits of the American government. 

And they are such an opportunity. But the

prospect of a stoppage of government services should not be used to

extort concessions. 

King works for the government; he has on many

occasions proclaimed his patriotism and love for his country. What

kind of love is it that pushes him and others to threaten the end

of his government’s existence? 

Our government was founded upon an admission

that there are indeed problems common to us all. Those problems

cannot be solved by business, nor can they be solved by social

forces. They require collective action coordinated by the U.S.

government. The constitutional empowerment to regulate commerce and

to make all laws necessary and proper for that purpose, as well as

the others listed in “Article I, Section 8,” are such purposes of


I agree that it would be very nice if wasteful

spending was eliminated, if taxes were lowered, and if little

regulation of business and industry was necessary. But our

Constitution allows us to wantonly spend on programs we have

determined are necessary, to raise taxes and to regulate


In these budgetary debates, it is important to

remember that the whole purpose of having a government is to solve

these issues. Cuts should not be made where they are harmful;

government programs fulfill important roles in the lives of many

American citizens. The whole object of the federal government,

James Madison wrote in “Federalist No. 10,” is to secure “the great

and aggregate interests” of the American people. 

In the same essay, Madison continued in this

vein, writing the public good is one of the objects of government;

further, that it is necessary to protect the public good against

the attacks of an interested faction.  Those factions

are not always minorities, a similarly interested majority can also

constitute a faction. 

The fact that a majority, however

overwhelming, supports a particular measure is no reason to approve

that measure. It may be that, if it is actually given

consideration, the measure will be found to be necessary. Speaker

of the House John Boehner said last week that his party would do no

more and no less than what the American people


Such an attitude smacks of the pure democracy

the government established in our Constitution seeks to avoid. The

whole reason for establishing a republic — by which Madison meant

“a government in which the scheme of representation takes place” —

is to avoid the majority factions that exploit government for their

own ends. 

However, if the representatives of the

electorate fulfill their role, they do not give in to the

prevailing popular passions. The “scheme of representation” serves

as a medium through which views are passed.<span style=

“mso-spacerun: yes;”>  By not entertaining or considering

alternative options, a politician is not acting politically. He is

acting according to a platform; a set of principles which, once

decided upon, cannot be changed.<span style=

“mso-spacerun: yes;”> 

It is dangerous for representatives to be too

dependent upon their constituents. And while those who voted in

favor of a politician must be appeased by him, he represents those

who voted against him just as much as those who voted for him.

George W. Bush, in his role as president, even

represented Sen. Al Gore, D-Tenn., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to

the rest of the world. President Barack Obama does the same for

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. 

Their role as a medium allows representatives

“to refine and enlarge the public views.” By taking into account a

variety of conflicting interests and by attempting to reconcile

them as legislation is made, it becomes more likely measures that

are good for the whole group will be decided upon. Through these

considerations of opposing interests, the representatives will be

able to “discern the true interest of their country.”

It is not in the interest of the U.S., or her

people, for the government to cease functioning for however long an

amount of time. One of the reasons is, clearly, the fact government

services would be suspended. But an even more disturbing part of a

government shutdown due to a budgetary impasse is what it indicates

for the practice of politics in America. 

It indicates, namely, that the political

systems designed to contain the abuses of faction have failed to

ensure people will not put the government and the public power

behind it at the service of their own private ends. The

Constitution establishes a government that puts private interests

at the service of public needs, not the other way