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A 'remarkably stupid' government shutdown wraps up quickly

Americans had never seen a shutdown when one party controlled the White House, Senate, and House. We've now seen it twice -- in three weeks.
Image: Rand Paul
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., walks to the Senate floor for a vote on the energy bill, at the Capitol in Washington, May 12, 2014.

Millions of Americans probably went to bed last night, not realizing that their federal government was poised to shut down. Those same Americans may also be surprised this morning to learn that the shutdown began and ended quite quickly.

Indeed, while we generally measure shutdowns in days and weeks, this one lasted hours.

After a temporary lapse in government funding that lasted through the night, the House passed a pricey two-year spending deal early Friday that will also fund the government for an additional six weeks.The government temporarily closed after Congress failed to pass a government funding bill before a midnight deadline due to the objections of one senator, shutting down non-essential government services.

Around 1:30 a.m. (E.T) this morning, the Senate voted 71 to 28 to pass its spending bill, and roughly fours later, the House followed suit, voting 240 to 186.

At issue was a $400 billion bipartisan package, funding federal operations through next year -- this is the agreement Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) worked out earlier this week -- but that bill is a broad blueprint, the details of which still need work.

With that in mind, the bill that passed this morning to end the shutdown is another stopgap spending measure -- a "continuing resolution" (or C.R.) -- giving lawmakers until March 23 to finalize the specifics of their two-year plan.

And why, pray tell, couldn't Congress pass this before last night's midnight deadline? Because of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

To be sure, Kentucky's junior Republican senator has every reason to hate the budget agreement. It increases domestic spending (which Paul opposes); it increases defense spending (which Paul also opposes); and it blows existing budget caps (and Paul likes those caps). It wasn't hard to guess how he'd vote on this thing.

But voting against wasn't quite enough for him.

And so, when it came time for senators to unanimously agree to allow a floor vote on the spending deal, Paul objected. And then objected again. And again.

This wasn't a filibuster in the literal sense, but Rand Paul did hold the Senate floor for a while, explaining why he hates this deal, and why he was doing everything he could to delay the legislative process so that the government would shut down.

Why did he do this? Because he wanted to -- and because he could. Sometimes, one senator in the midst of a tantrum can have a big impact.

During last month's shutdown, Republicans aggressively pushed the "Schumer Shutdown" line, while Democrats touted the "Trump Shutdown" line with equal vigor. Overnight, there was no real debate: this was Rand Paul's shutdown.

The trouble, of course, is that the GOP lawmaker doesn't appear to have accomplished anything -- unless one considers a five-hour shutdown an accomplishment.

Shutdowns are traditionally the result of parties or large contingents within parties pursuing specific goals through semi-radical tactics. Overnight, the federal government of the world's dominant superpower shut down because one dude wanted to complain on T.V.

This is what U.S. governance looks like in 2018. Up until fairly recently, Americans had never seen a shutdown when one party controlled the White House, Senate, and House. We've now seen it twice -- in three weeks.

During the brief crisis, Rachel told viewers early this morning it was a "remarkably stupid" shutdown, which seemed to summarize the issue quite nicely.