Posts Tagged ‘Government Shutdown’

Maybe the shutdown is a goal, not a tactic

January 17, 2019

I criticized President Trump in a previous post for being willing to close down the government and possibly declaring a national emergency in order to get his way on building fences along the southern border.

But maybe I’ve got things backwards.  Maybe the goal is not to build more border fence, but to shut down the government and declare a national emergency.  This increases his power and frees him from constitutional checks and balances.

I’m not saying this is his plan.  I’m saying his actions are consistent with him having such a plan.

His administration has ordered tens of thousands of federal employees to work without pay, which from his point of view is an ideal situation.  It shifts the cost of the shutdown onto others and shelters him from the political consequences of his nation.

Right-wing plutocrats don’t care about government employees and they don’t care whether the government is well-administered or not.  They regard government regulations as a nuisance and government services as unnecessary.

If government fails to work under their watch, they can say that this just proves that government is a failure.

This also was the attitude of President George W. Bush to some extent.  One thing you can say for President Obama is that he appointed highly qualified people to top administrative positions, and that he was concerned that the government work.

Civil servants don’t advertise.  We the citizens don’t appreciate or even know all the ways we depend on them quietly doing their jobs.  We scorn public service at our peril.


The Government Shutdown Is Bad, But It Could Get Much Worse by Bloomberg News.

A Shutdown for the 99 Percent, Concierge Government for the 1 Percent by Eoin Higgins for The Intercept.

Inside Trump’s Cruel Campaign Against the U.S.D.A.’s Scientists by Michael Lewis for Vanity Fair.

Why the Scariest Nuclear Threat May Be Coming From the White House by Michael Lewis for Vanity Fair.

The shutdown ends, the battle continues

October 18, 2013

While the government is for now allowed to resume normal operations, it is operating under the sequestration of funds.   The sequester, which went into effect in March, is the result of the previous budget standoff between the President and congressional Republicans.  It consists of across-the-board budget cuts so drastic that it was thought that the two parties would compromise rather than allow them to go into effect.

MW-AR658_spendi_20120521163312_ME11This is not what liberals want.

On January 15, the continuing resolution to fund the government expires and a new round of sequesters goes into effect.  If the Senate and House agree on another “clean” continuing resolution, that will be in effect a victory for the conservative Republicans.  I won’t call it a defeat for President Obama because his own stated goal is a “grand bargain” to reduce the deficit.

Would the radical right wing of the Republican Party be satisfied with this?  Will liberals and Democrats counterattack and, if so, how?  Stay tuned.  We live in interesting times.


Now the USA is the dysfunctional democracy

October 18, 2013

When I studied political science in college nearly 60 years ago, we were taught to contrast the sensible, pragmatic American and British political cultures with the ideological, gridlocked French and Italians.

How a Bill Becomes Law - UpdatedIn France and Italy in the 1950s, governments fell and new governmental coalitions had to be formed every few months, or so it seemed, and the diverse political parties could never agree on policies to address their nations problems.

But I never heard of any French or Italian political party that tried to stop their governments from carrying out their lawful functions or paying their lawful bills, as happened during the past couple of weeks here in the United States.  Today it is we Americans who set an example of ideological, gridlocked government.

Our Constitution sets up a legislative process that says enactment of a law requires agreement among a President elected by the nation, a House of Representatives elected by districts on a population basis and a Senate elected by states on a state sovereignty basis.  That is a more complicated and difficult process than in most democratic governments.  But now agreement among these three bodies is required merely to allow the government to carry out responsibilities mandated by law.

The Republican Party is not doomed to disappear

October 17, 2013

Some smart people think the Republican Party is doomed because of the government shutdown debacle.  But Republicans have come back from worse than this.

The Republicans came back from the failures of the George W. Bush administration, from the Newt Gingrich-led shutdown in the 1990s, from the Watergate scandals, and from the Goldwater defeat in 1964.  So I think the Republican Party is going to be with us for the foreseeable future.

bs-ed-horsey-gloomy-gop-20130429American laws and customs make it difficult to challenge the two-party system.  It’s hard for third party candidates to get on a ballot.  Even when they do, few if any journalists take them seriously or give them equal treatment.  Both Democrats and Republicans have a solid base of supporters who will vote for them no matter what.  I don’t see this changing any time soon.

Republicans have a problem in that there is a conflict between their core supporters and their core financial contributors.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers don’t want the government to be shut down.  But the Democrats have the same conflict between what their core voters want and what their campaign donors want.  Silicon Valley and Wall Street donors won’t want a higher minimum wage, a better social safety net or higher upper-bracket taxes.

Partly because the two parties are so much alike in their economic and foreign policies, voters tend to divide along ethnic, regional and generational lines.  Demographic trends are running against the Republican Party, but party leaders have an answer to that:  Rig the election against the demographic groups that tend to vote Democratic.  Techniques include gerrymandering, voter ID laws and other restrictions and possibly tampering with hack-able touch-screen voting machines.  This is reprehensible, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work.

Franklin Roosevelt was elected in 1932 because the American people thought the Herbert Hoover administration was a failure.  But he was re-elected in 1936 and set the stage for decades of Democratic power because of the popularity of the New Deal.

The Democrats have no such positive program today.   The Tea Party Republicans do stand for something, and have the courage of their convictions, as flawed as these may be.   Democrats when in power—Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama—govern as if they were the Republican B Team, the replacements for when the Republicans mess up.


The government’s shutdown priorities

October 11, 2013

The Washington Post had a good article the other day on the percentages of government workers furloughed in different departments.   Here is the result of the Post report.

Department of Education, 94 percent

Environmental Protection Agency, 94 percent

Department of Housing and Urban Development, 90 percent

Department of Commerce, 87 percent

Treasury Department, 82 percent

Department of Labor, 82 percent

Department of the Interior, 81 percent

Department of Agriculture, 66 percent

Small Business Administration, 62 percent

Department of Energy, 61 percent

Department of Health and Human Services, 52 percent

Department of Transportation, 33 percent

Justice Department, 16 percent.

Department of Homeland Security, 14 percent

Department of Defense, 4 percent

Veterans Affairs, 4 percent

State Department, less than 1 percent.


States block health insurance for millions of poor

October 4, 2013

Double click to enlarge

The New York Times reported that, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Medicaid loophole and the actions of the governments of 26 mostly Southern states, millions of poor people will be excluded from Obamacare.  The article said:

A sweeping national effort to extend health coverage to millions of Americans will leave out two-thirds of the poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of the low-wage workers who do not have insurance, the very kinds of people that the program was intended to help, according to an analysis of census data by The New York Times.

Because they live in states largely controlled by Republicans that have declined to participate in a vast expansion of Medicaid, the medical insurance program for the poor, they are among the eight million Americans who are impoverished, uninsured and ineligible for help.  The federal government will pay for the expansion through 2016 and no less than 90 percent of costs in later years.

Those excluded will be stranded without insurance, stuck between people with slightly higher incomes who will qualify for federal subsidies on the new health exchanges that went live this week, and those who are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid in its current form, which has income ceilings as low as $11 a day in some states.


The 26 states that have rejected the Medicaid expansion are home to about half of the country’s population, but about 68 percent of poor, uninsured blacks and single mothers.  About 60 percent of the country’s uninsured working poor are in those states. Among those excluded are about 435,000 cashiers, 341,000 cooks and 253,000 nurses’ aides.


Barry Ritholtz on The Big Picture provided this map showing the overlap between those who want to block health insurance for poor people and those who want to shut down the government.


Double click to enlarge


What is actually being shut down?

October 4, 2013


I read contradictory accounts of what governmental functions actually are being stopped.  Until I get a clear picture, I will put a link to this post near the top of  in my links menu on the right column of this page, and add to it as I get more information.

Please use this as an open thread for information and comments about the shutdown.

Shutdown Salmonella Outbreak Continues by Maryn McKenna for Wired.  Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist.  [added 10/15/13]

NASA missions struggle to cope with shutdown by Nature News and Comment [added 10/14/13]

How the shutdown affects departments by the Washington Post.  [added 10/11/13]

Nine ways the shutdown will get more painful as it drags on by Brad Plumer for the Washington Post [added 10/11/13]

Top Ten Things Ted Cruz Did to the NSA and Other Security Agencies that Edward Snowden Couldn’t by Juan Cole for Informed Comment.

I had assumed that the military and intelligence agencies would operate as usual, but Prof. Cole provided links to articles indicating that this is not the case.

Fascist Priorities of the U.S. Government Shutdown by “libbyliberal” for Corrente.

This writer said that all the governmental functions that benefit the top income earners will continue, but services to poor people and environmental, health and financial regulation are being brought to a halt.

How the Shutdown Is Devastating Biomedical Scientists and Killing Their Research by Brandon Keim for Wired.

Government Shutdown Not Slowing Down Warmongers by Washington’s Blog. [added 10/5/13]

How Iran and China Are Benefiting From America’s Shutdown by Romesh Ratnesar for Businessweek [added 10/6/13].  The State Department is unable to function normally to represent U.S. interests.

One Nation Under Shutdown: Here’s How Congress Is Hurting Your State by the Huffington Post [added 10/6/13]

NASA uses emergency exception to save Mars mission from government shutdown by Jeff Blagdon for The Verge [added 10/6/13]

The Government Shuts Down and the Microbes Win by Emily Willingham for Forbes [added 10/7/13].   Food inspections, medical research, tracking of diseases and the WICS nutrition program, which strengthens newborn infants against infectious disease, have all been shut down or drastically curtailed.

Crisis in government: Links & comments 10/4/13

October 4, 2013

Shutdown Standoff: One of the Worst Crises in American History by John B. Judis for the New Republic.

What’s at stake is whether a political bloc has the power to bring the American government to a halt in order to get its way.   If the Tea Party Republicans get their way, Judis warned, the U.S. government could become unable to function, leading to the rise of extremist parties of the right and left.  I don’t think he exaggerates.

Debt Ceiling Chicken and Trench Warfare by “Yves Smith” for Naked Capitalism.

The United States may be in for a longer and more destructive political siege than anyone expected.  Not only are there no plans for the two sides to meet, nothing is being done to prepare for discussions.  The problem is that this is an either-or situation not subject to compromise.  Either you recognize that a political faction has the right to crash the government, or you don’t.

Republicans Are No Longer the Party of Business by Joshua Green for BloombergBusinessWeek.

The government shutdown creates economic uncertainty and hampers the economic recovery.  That’s why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is opposed to it.

Tea party lawmakers see the culmination of years of effort in shutdown by Zachary A. Goldfarb for the Washington Post.

Since Barry Goldwater ran for President in 1964, members of the right wing of the Republican Party have seen the size of the federal government as the main threat to American freedom.  Ronald Reagan didn’t accomplish this, Newt Gingrich didn’t, George W. Bush didn’t.  Now, at long last, the Republican small-government conservatives think they can accomplish their goal.

The real reason for the government shutdown by Dean Baker for Al Jazeera America.

Baker said the Ted Cruz Republicans see this as their last chance to stop Obamacare, because it will be popular if it ever is allowed to work.

The government shutdown could end today.  All it would cost is John Boehner’s speakership by Chris Gilizza and Sean Sullivan for the Washington Post.

Seventeen Republicans have said they’d vote for a “clean” continuing resolution, which would allow the government to resume normal functioning.  They and the Democrats would be a majority in the House of Representatives.  But if John Boehner allowed that to happen, he would lose his party’s support to be Speaker.

The Shutdown in 10 Infuriating Sentences by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

Kevin Drum demonstrated that the shutdown is not a result of equal stubbornness on both sides, but a faction of the Republican Party that intends to rule or ruin.

Even if the shutdown ends, the government is operating under the budget sequester, which is a victory for right-wing Republican priorities in itself.

The shutdown is a Constitutional crsis.

October 3, 2013

The government shutdown, and the impending government debt default, are Constitutional crises.  If President Obama gives in to the threat, he will have set a precedent that will permanently undermine democracy and cripple the U.S. government.  Threatening to shut down the government or force a debt default will become a normal political tactic.

Furloughed federal employee holds sign on the steps to the U.S. Capitol after the U.S. Government shut down last night, on Capitol Hill in WashingtonWhen I studied political science in college in the 1950s, my professors mocked the French Chamber of Deputies, with its continuing crises and deadlocks.   They contrasted it with our American political culture, based on common sense, compromise and loyalty to the common good.  But nowadays the French government functions well.  It is we Americans who are in danger of becoming prisoners of ideology and gridlock.

As “B Psycho” and Matthew Yglesias have pointed out, the government as a whole has not been shut down.  It is business as usual for government employees with uniforms, badges and guns. [Update: Maybe not]  It is only the employees whose work directly helps people who have been told to stay home.  The WICS program, which helps low-income pregnant women and newborn infants, has been suspended.  Experimental cancer treatment by the National Institutes of Health is on hold.  If the shutdown runs too long, disabled veterans will cease to receive payments.

federal.government.shutdownI don’t like this priority any better than they do, but law enforcement, civil order and national defense are core functions of government—they are defining functions of government—and given the fact of a shutdown, it is to be expected they will continue.

I don’t think that a government shutdown should be used as leverage to change homeland security policy (not that anybody important is proposing to do so) any more than it should be used to change Obamacare.  Shutdowns should not be allowed to become an accepted method of deciding policy.

That’s why I think President Obama should stand firm in refusing “compromise” offers by the House of Representatives to fund particular government operations while continuing the overall shutdown.  This is a backdoor way for them to force the Senate and the President to accept their priorities.  The Republican caucus in the House shouldn’t be allowed to decide, all by themselves, which parts of the government should be allowed to operate and which parts shouldn’t.

If the President backs down, then threats of shutdowns will become a substitute for the normal legislative process.  The government will be in a state of perpetual crisis, unable to carry out policies or perform its lawful functions—although still able to spy on citizens, to persecute dissenters and to wage war.


The two basic facts about the shutdown

October 2, 2013

James Fallows of The Atlantic pointed out something important:

To people who follow politics these two facts are obvious.  But they’re not part of most “tragedy of gridlock” false-equivalence stories, and I believe they would come as news to most of the public.

The two facts are:

  1. John Boehner

    John Boehner

    If the House of Representatives voted on a “clean” budget bill — one that opened up the closed federal offices but did not attempt to defund the Obama health care program — that bill would pass, and the shutdown would be over. Nearly all Democrats would vote for it, as would enough Republicans to end the shutdown and its related damage.  And of course it would pass, has already passed, the Senate, repeatedly, unless the minority dared filibuster it, and would be signed by the president. … …

  2. So far House Speaker John Boehner has refused to let this vote occur.  His Tea Party contingent knows how the vote would go and therefore does not want it to happen; and such is Boehner’s fear of them, and fear for his job as Speaker, that he will not let it take place.

These two points are why the normal D.C.-poohbah moanings about the need for compromise do not apply.   The Democratic administration, and a sufficient number of Republicans, already agree and are ready enough to compromise to solve this problem.  If the normal machinery of democracy were allowed to work, the manufactured crisis would be over.  The only reason the senseless damage is being done is that hostage-takers have terrorized members of their own party.

via James Fallows – The Atlantic.


The budget crisis: Links & comments 10/2/13

October 2, 2013

What If Voters Don’t Punish Extremism? by Ed Kilgore for Washington Monthly.

Barack Obama has a history of standing aside and giving his opponents enough rope to hang themselves, then jerking on the rope.  I think this is what he is doing in the government shutdown and debt default crises.

Ed Kilgore thinks this might backfire in the current crisis.  Voters are being told by that both sides are equally to blame—even though, in his opinion, the blame rests mainly with the Republicans.

Shutdown Could Last Weeks by Jonathan Strong for National Review Online.

Neither side is willing to back down.  Obama insists on a “clean” continuing resolution to allow the whole government to keep functioning.  Congressional Republicans plan to introduce “rifle shot” bills to keep specific government departments and programs functioning, but President Obama has said he will veto them (although he did sign a bill to continue paying active duty military personnel).

Strong said it is not just a conflict between the President and the House Republican caucus.  The real deadlock is between House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who detest each other.

The Individual Mandate and the Government Shutdown by Ian Welsh.

Welsh argued that the Republican Obamacare proposal is reasonable.  It did not suspend Obamacare, but only its most unpopular provision, the individual mandate to buy health insurance whether you want it or not.

The problem with Welch’s argument is that, without the individual mandate, the complicated Obamacare system crashes.  If the people who sign up for Obamacare are only people who are poor and already sick, the system cannot pay for itself itself.

What Exactly Did Boehner Promise at Williamsburg? by Jonathan Strong for National Review Online.

The House GOP’s Legislative Strike by Jonathan Chait for New York magazine.

The Republican congressional caucus agreed in January to the Williamsburg Accords, an agreement to use the threat of a government shutdown and debt payment default to force President Obama to agree to their program.  The current crisis is not an accident.  It is part of a planned strategy.

Why Boehner doesn’t just ditch the hard right?, an interview of Robert Costa, the National Review’s Washington editor, by Ezra Klein of the Washington Post.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives has less influence on the Republican caucus than does the Tea Party or Fox News.

Who to blame for the U.S. budget crisis?  Try the Kaiser by Uwe Bott for the Toronto Globe & Mail.

Once upon a time the President had to ask Congress for approval each time the government borrowed money.  In order to pay for the cost of fighting in World War One, President Woodrow Wilson asked for, and got, approval to borrow money, up to a certain limit—the debt ceiling.

Why doesn’t President Obama compromise?

October 1, 2013


Why doesn’t President Obama compromise with the congressional Republicans on the budget?  As the chart above shows, he already has compromised a lot—more, in my opinion, than he should have.

The congressional Republicans say that the President is more willing to negotiate with the  Iranian government than he is with them.  I would say that the reason is there is more possibility of give and take with the Iranians than there is with the Republicans.

government-shutdownIt is the hallmark of a revolutionary party that when it runs candidates for elective office, it is not for the purpose of participating in government, but of undermining it.   Revolutionaries do not regard governmental power as legitimate.  The radical right-wingers in Congress, and their grass-roots supporters do not regard the present U.S. government as legitimate.  They think it is a good thing, not a bad thing, when government ceases to function.

So long as they hold that attitude, there is no point in trying to work with them.  It is necessary to find a way to work around them.


What does it take to enact a law in the USA?

September 30, 2013

In a country with a parliamentary system, a Prime Minister is chosen by the party with a majority in parliament, or by a coalition of parties if none of them has a majority.  The Prime Minister then proposes laws and normally they are enacted by parliament.  If parliament rejects an important bill, the Prime Minister has the option to call an election, and let the people decide which they think is right.

Here in the United States, the process is different.  In order to become law, the Affordable Care Act has to get a majority of votes in the House of Representatives and 60 out of 100 votes in the U.S. Senate.  It then had to be signed by the President and reviewed by the Supreme Court.  It seems to me that, whether or not you agree with the law, that ought to be enough.

Source: Buffalo News

Hat tip to Buffalo News.
Update: President Obama signed a law providing for continuation of pay of active-duty military personnel.

But now the Republicans in the House of Representatives are threatening to shut down the government unless the Obama administration delays implementation of the health care act.  They don’t have the votes to repeal the law, so they are using a blackmail tactic instead.

In my opinion, Obamacare is a flawed plan which is unlikely to work as intended.  But it is law, and millions of individuals and thousands of businesses have made plans based on the schedule for implementing it.   Shutting down the government would be harmful to the country, but there would be even more harm from the economic uncertainty created by doubts as to whether a law really is law even after it is enacted.

Granted, there are worse things that could happen than a temporary shutdown of government.  But it creates unnecessary disruption, unnecessary hardship and also unnecessary expense, because it is more costly to shut down and restart than to continue operations.  It is terrible way to run a government.


The politics of defunding Obamacare (2)

September 26, 2013


Click on The GOP’s Self-Defeating ‘Defunding’ Strategy for Karl Rove’s article in the Wall Street Journal.


Public opinion and Obamacare

September 26, 2013


This opinion poll by Pew Research indicates that more than half of the opponents of the Affordable Care Act think that elected officials should try to make it work as well as possible rather than sabotaging it and making it worse.

Some time back I saw a public opinion poll that indicated that some of the opponents of Obamacare oppose it because (like me) they would prefer a single-payer system (Medicare for everybody) or a public option as a voluntary alternative to private insurance.  I wasn’t able to find the poll in a Google search. 

[Update: In the latest CNN poll, 54 percent of respondents opposed Obamacare, but of that group, 16 percent opposed it because they thought the bill was not liberal enough.]

What I’d be interested in seeing is a current poll of the opponents of Obamacare giving a breakdown as to (1) those who oppose it because they think it won’t provide affordable health insurance to the currently uninsured and (2) those who oppose it because they are opposed in principle to the government spending money to give people medical care.  I’d also like to see a breakdown of opponents who would like the government to (a) do more or (b) do less.

But whatever Americans think of the Affordable Care Act, a majority disagree with shutting down the government or risking a default on government in order to prevent it from being implemented.


The politics of defunding Obamacare

September 26, 2013


Click on What Republicans don’t understand about the politics of Obamacare for more from Ezra Klein on the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

Hat tip to jobsanger.