Does Anyone Care About Shutdowns or the Debt?
On September 8th, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford announced his entry to the Republican presidential primary—a direct challenge to the Republican incumbent, President Donald Trump. Sanford became the third such Republican to do so after former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld and former U.S. Representative Joe Walsh of Illinois. In a video, Sanford explained that he was motivated to run by the nation’s ballooning $16.7 trillion debt. He said, “we’re heading towards the most predictable financial crisis in the history of our country” and decried the lack of Republican leadership on these pressing fiscal issues.
But is there a market for Sanford’s fiscal conservatism? According to a CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll from March of this year, 81 percent of Iowa Republicans approve of the president’s performance in office. And yet this president has called himself the “King of Debt” and has raised the level of debt held by the public by over $2.3 trillion. If there ever was a base for Sanford’s fiscal hawkishness, it seems to have all but disappeared among ordinary Republicans.
But it isn’t just the national debt that’s a ticking fiscal time bomb. At the end of this month, the United States will begin a new fiscal year. And yet, Congress and the president haven’t enacted a single appropriations bill to fund the government in the new fiscal year. On Thursday, September 19, the House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution to fund the government at the same levels until November 21 in order to prevent a government shutdown. But there’s no guarantee this bill will make it through the Republican-controlled Senate and White House.
This sort of fiscal jeopardy has been commonplace in Washington—but it has real effects all across America, including here in Iowa. When the U.S. Department of Agriculture was shut down for over a month in the most recent government shutdown, Iowa farmers felt the pain of having delayed tariff assistance checks and missing government reports. Also in the last shutdown, Americans were unable to buy or renew policies from the National Flood Insurance Program all while major flooding ravaged the Midwest. And as places like Pottawattamie County, Iowa, currently deal with additional flooding, these programs need to stay up-and-running to prevent crises from getting out of hand. More so, there are over eight thousand federal employees in Iowa, most of whom would have to stay at home, furloughed during a government shutdown.
If constant fiscal fights and a forthcoming federal debt crisis seem to be major issues of our modern politics…why does it seem like no one is talking about it? According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, there have been no questions about debt or deficits posed to the Democratic candidates for president in any of the debates so far. Furthermore, there was no example that I could find of a Democratic candidate for president being asked about debt or deficits on the ground here in Iowa. And when I asked around the Iowa Caucus Project, no one could recall hearing a question about these fiscal issues either.
This isn’t to say some candidates aren’t discussing these issues—Mark Sanford certainly is—as is former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. But the problem is that these issues go beyond the Beltway and affect real people living in places like Iowa. What will it take for us to confront issues like this head-on?
This post has been edited to reflect the passage of a continuing resolution in the House of Representatives.