Staff Columnist

Iowa should plan now for the next federal shutdown

Don't expect the federal spigot to flow forever

Pocket Watch, US Currency, And Skeleton Key
Pocket Watch, US Currency, And Skeleton Key

Craft beer has fallen victim to the ongoing federal shutdown.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau — the federal agency responsible for permitting new breweries and authorizing sales across state lines — is closed during the partial shutdown. Entrepreneurs with pending applications face a standstill, disrupting their efforts to start or grow their businesses. Even when politicians reach a funding agreement to restart federal operations, a bureaucratic backlog is expected to persist, the national Brewers Association warns.

A Pella woman said in a Des Moines Register article published this week that her plans to open a new taproom are on hold due to the shutdown.

I have to wonder why Americans entrust such important duties to our bumbling central planners in Congress and the White House.


The outrage over our imperiled beer industry has focused on ending the government shutdown. Fair point, but we also should be asking why the federal government needs to be involved in beer sales, and in the rest of our lives.

It turns out beer oversight is a relatively insignificant example of federal shutdown woes. Even though the funding impasse only affects about 25 percent of the federal government, the consequences are widespread. Unpaid airport security staffers are calling in sick to work, the Food and Drug Administration has pulled back food inspections, automotive safety investigations are on hold and government museums are closed.

I have to wonder why Americans entrust such important duties to our bumbling central planners in Congress and the White House.

Even where legal scholars agree the federal government has authority to oversee such functions, there is not always a compelling rationale for federal involvement. In many cases, state governments or private entities could do the same work at least as well, and much more reliably.

This shutdown is expected to be the longest in American history, but even when it eventually ends, you can be sure another is on the way, probably sooner than later.


Under the modern federal budgeting process in place since the 1970s, Congress has only approved proper appropriations packages four times, according to the Pew Research Center. And there’s little hope the current crop of Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C. will strike any sort of lasting harmony on spending issues in the foreseeable future.

That’s especially troubling since state governments heavily rely on federal cash. State programs in Iowa received $8.5 billion from the federal government in 2017, according to Iowans for Tax Relief, more than the state’s own $7.5 billion budget. It would not be prudent to turn away those dollars — Iowans pay federal taxes, after all — but it is foolish not to make contingency plans for the likelihood that the federal government eventually will default on some of its obligations.

As the free-market economist Herbert Stein said, “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” The yearslong, bipartisan federal spending spree surely fits in this category.

Iowa policymakers have a choice — start planning now for a post-federal society, or wait until a fiscal catastrophe strikes without notice. It should be easy decision.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156;

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.