The (partial) Shutdown begins

“One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election” President Obama, 30 September 2013

I have been avoiding flooding the blog with story after story about the potential shut down, keeping a record of the best stories to update later. As we have awaited the deadline, and watched it pass, the US Government today went into partial shutdown. 700,000 workers will be sent home today from non-essential services such as NPS parks, monuments and museums including over 1,000 workers from the White House. A further one million will be asked to work without pay right now; they will get paid but not until the government has some money. The estimated cost of this shut down is $8bn a day; not much compared to the Defense budget for 2014 but this does perhaps challenge the view of America as a ‘beacon on the hill’ of democracy.

In relation to your exam…the Founding Fathers instilled the principle of bipartisanship in the Constitution through for separate elections, super-majorities and the separation of powers. While we cannot put words in the mouths of the Founding Fathers, it is probably safe to assume this kind of ‘gridlock’ and lack of compromise is not what they envisioned. Obama even includes a nod to this in the quote above, pointing out the House is only a small part of a much larger federal government. This certainly is a very impressive example of separation of powers in action. It could be used in an essay to suggest that the US Constitution is too rigid or that Separation of Powers do not work as intended.

Equally, for Unit 3, we can see the ideological beliefs of parties shining through in this shutdown, with the big bone of contention being the costs of Obamacare which, incidentally, has come into force today.Both parties spent most of last night blaming each other, one Democrat in the House telling Republicans to ‘put their grown-up pants on’. Ted Cruz, notable for his Dr. Seuss faux-filibuster last week, appeared to have limited support from any other than the very right wing of his party. Certainly, partisan voting was rife last night which could be used in an essay to show that parties and their ideology are still important in US politics.

Also in Unit 3, you can relate this to the elections topic. Obama’s key argument is that Obamacare was passed before the 2012 election, and yet he still won that election, essentially giving him approval for his new law. However, the House would argue they too have a mandate, being elected on the same date and the public choosing to populate the House with a majority of Republicans. The prevalence of divided government has become the norm in the past four decades but this demonstrates the worst effects of such a system.

In Unit 4, Obama threatened that should a bill come to him with provisions for Obamacare stripped out that he would veto it. The bills that were bouncing back and forth between the two houses last night were passing by only small majorities, they certainly could not have overridden the veto if Obama had exercised this power. In this instance, the threat alone seems enough, which is great evidence for the powers of each branch and for arguments over the ‘Imperial Presidency’. It certainly seems to throw into question the effective powers of Congress, who are supposedly the holders of the purse strings. In a battle over money, which the Constitution gives the power of to the House, it seems like this battle is much more even than it appears.

The study of the Presidency will also include a study of the Federal Bureaucracy. This is made up of departments, agencies, commissions and corporations and is the element of government that ‘gets stuff done’, although their effectiveness at this is highly debatable. However, in these circumstances, each department has issued a plan of what they will do and how they will cope through this shut down. This is will prove very useful when we study the Federal Bureaucracy.

This will, finally, prove an outstanding example of how a bill becomes a law for the Congressional topic. The fall of Conference Committees and the rise of ‘ping-ponging’ is nothing new in American politics. This was an example of that in action, as the bill last night bounced back and forth between the two houses trying to make a bill that was identical and could therefore be passed, all the while with the threat of the veto and that midnight deadline looming.

So, with the lights staying off in many government buildings this morning, now both Obama and Congress will be playing the media game. Perception is now everything; whose fault is the shutdown? Clinton played a clever strategy in 1995/6 and much of the media placed the blame at the door of Congress. With Obamacare coming into force today, Obama will be hoping that he can convince the media the same is true this time. The antics of Ted Cruz are likely to feed this fire to some extent. However, in addition to this failure to agree, an additional deadline to raise the US debt ceiling is approaching in a few weeks. If these this and the current crisis fail to reach a resolution, the US is likely to default on it’s debt, and the impact on the world economy could be, in the words of Robert Peston, ‘severe’.

Watch this space…

Below are a selection of the best links on this story; for your exam, this is simply a catch-all example that you must know well. You MUST keep up to date using the Washington Post as this crisis unfolds.

Countdown to Shutdown – Washington Post Graphic

Who’s to blame? The other side!

The US Government Shutdown in 60 Seconds (BBC Video)

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