Q & A: Mark Rom on the Government Shutdown

A sign indicating that U.S. national parks are closed due to the federal government shutdown.
Photo credit: National Parks Conservation Association/Flickr

January 22, 2019 — The U.S. federal government has now been partially closed for more than a month due to a lapse in appropriations, by far the longest shutdown in the country's history. President Donald J. Trump has signalled that he would refuse to sign any new spending bill that does not include billions of dollars designated for a "border wall," placing him at an impasse with two separate Congresses.

We spoke with Professor Mark Rom — a specialist in American politics and social policy in the Department of Government and McCourt School of Public Policy — about why this shutdown has lasted so long.

Why has this shutdown lasted so long?

Neither side has incentives to compromise. Both sides believe they are on the side of angels, and their core supporters agree.

What else is unusual about this shutdown?

No shutdown has lasted this long. No shutdown has involved less negotiation. No shutdown has been triggered by such a narrow policy disagreement.

What are the president's goals and negotiating strategy?

He has three goals: 1) "Build the Wall!" 2) To show his supporters he is a winner; 3) To crush the Democratic opposition. His strategy is to keep the government closed until the Democrats cave.

What are the Democrats' goals and negotiating strategy?

The Democrat goals are the reverse: 1) "Stop the Wall!" 2) Show supporters they can defeat Trump; 3) Crush Trump.

What's somewhat unusual is that there has been almost no attempt at logrolling  — "I'll give you something you really want if you give me something I really want."

How do Congressional Republicans fit into this?

Almost complete resistance. Majority Leader McConnell has been totally absent.

What are the long-term repercussions of the shutdown?

It creates health and safety risks to the American people. It further diminishes democratic institutions. It weakens the ability of our government to govern. It increases political hostility and polarization.

There are NO benefits from the shutdown: only costs.

Interview conducted by Patrick Curran.