IF YOU want to shut down a government as painlessly as possible, do it over a weekend. The federal government closed for business at 12.01am on Saturday, January 20th and reopened on Monday night, after the Senate passed a bill to fund it until February 8th. This was the ninth such shutdown since 1980. Because the party with less power in Washington can usually derail the annual budgeting process, it will not be the last. Familiarity breeds eye-rolling. It is nevertheless remarkable that the world’s pre-eminent power so frequently fails to pay for its government on time. And though the shutdown is over, the disputes that provoked it remain unresolved, and look likely to recur in the coming weeks.

Republicans have an inherent advantage in shutdown politics. The party’s animating philosophy is that government should be smaller and do less. A closed government does less. When Democrats back a shutdown, as happened this time, it undercuts their claim to be the non-crazy party of governance and…Continue reading