Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is seen in the U.S. Capitol before the House failed to pass the Spending Reduction and Border Security Act on Friday, September 29, 2023. (

(Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The No-Good Nihilistic Destructiveness of the Coming GOP Shutdown

The Republican Party now controlled by Donald Trump is nothing but a wrecking ball aimed at democracy and good governance.

The U.S. is on the cusp of a government shutdown for no reason except that some two dozen House Republicans—under the bonkers influence of Donald Trump—want to create chaos.

All past shutdowns have pitted the party in control of the House against the president. But the one we’re now facing pits two parts of the House Republican caucus against each other—House Republicans who are merely conservative against this small group of House Republicans who want to take a wrecking ball to government.

It’s not surprising that Trump is supporting and encouraging the wrecking-ballers. That’s been his MO all along—create as much chaos as possible.

These wrecking-ballers are the same people intent on impeaching Joe Biden with no evidence of wrongdoing. The same people who continue to claim that the 2020 election was “stolen” with no evidence of electoral fraud. And they don’t want to support Ukraine against Putin’s aggression.

This isn’t governance. It’s nihilistic destructiveness.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy can’t duck responsibility for this. His agreement to allow any House Republican to call for a vote on his continued speakership has given the wrecking-ballers enormous leverage over him.

If the United States government is shut down, millions of innocent people will be hurt.

The last shutdown, in 2018, cost the U.S. economy $11 billion.

Funding for essentials will be jeopardized—disaster relief, clean water protections, food safety inspections, cancer research, nutrition programs for children.

Federal workers such as air traffic controllers will be required to work without pay—which will lead to travel delays. Members of our military won’t get paychecks. (They will likely receive back pay when then shutdown is over, but there’s no guarantee.)

There’s absolutely no justification for this. In May, McCarthy and House Republicans agreed to a very specific deal to fund the government. Now they’ve reneged on that agreement.

The Senate has voted 77-19 for a Continuing Resolution to keep the government open, which includes some $6 billion for Ukraine, but House Republicans have rejected that outright.

I’ve been directly involved in two “normal” shutdowns, and I can tell you they aren’t pretty.
On May 1, 1980, the House shut down the Federal Trade Commission—the first federal agency ever forced to close its doors in a dispute with Congress.

At the time, I headed the FTC’s policy staff and felt partly responsible.

You see, the House pulled the plug because the FTC had become too “activist.” We had the audacity to prevent insurance companies from defrauding consumers. Stop funeral homes from fraudulently bilking grieving families. Make it illegal for agricultural cooperatives to monopolize. Go after used car dealers selling clunkers. Stop broadcasters and the manufacturers of cereal, soft drinks, and candy from targeting children with their advertising.

We had stirred up just about every corporation in America. Lobbyists struck back by defunding the agency; 1,600 FTC staffers were told not to come into work, including me. Court cases were suspended, regulatory proceedings stopped dead in their tracks.

I was shocked. Weren’t we doing our jobs? Wasn’t the FTC established to protect consumers? Could Congress stop funding anything that threatened the moneyed interests?

Yes, yes, and … yes.

(Historical footnote: Jimmy Carter’s Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti ruled that the FTC could not continue operations during a period of “lapsed appropriations”—the first legal ruling requiring a shutdown due to a lack of congressional funding.)

We eventually got back our funding, but only under the condition the FTC stop doing most of what we had been doing.

The following year, Reagan was elected president, and I was fired.


Fifteen years later, I was in another shutdown—the result of an impasse between Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who wanted to balance the budget by cutting social programs and repealing Clinton’s 1993 tax increase.

Clinton said no.

So all funding stopped, and the United States government shut down from November 14 through November 19, 1995, and from December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996.

I was then secretary of labor, and I remember having to tell inspectors to stop protecting children from child labor, stop protecting workers from unhealthy and unsafe workplaces, stop protecting retirees from unfunded pensions, and stop protecting employees from wage theft.

I also had to tell 16,000 department employees they wouldn’t be receiving paychecks.

At one of the town meetings where I delivered the message, an employee asked me, through tears, “How am I going to pay my bills?”

Another said, “I took a job here at a pay cut because I wanted the security of government work. Why should anyone work for the United States government?”

Another: “I came here because I’m committed to public service. Why doesn’t Congress give a damn about public service?”

I had no good answers to any of their questions.

Newt Gingrich hoped Clinton would be blamed, but in the end America blamed Gingrich and his House Republicans.

Hopefully, this time most Americans will blame Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican wrecking-ballers, and their mentor Donald Trump—and vote accordingly next year.

© 2021 robertreich.substack.com