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August 9, 2022

Hopkins professors talk government shutdown

By JON SMETON | October 10, 2013

All nonessential functions of the federal government were shut down on Oct. 1, after Congress was unable to pass a resolution to appropriate funds to keep federal offices open and federal workers on the job.

While the Republican-led House has passed appropriations bills to fund the government, each of the resolutions were rejected by the Democratic-controlled Senate because of provisions in the bills that delayed or defunded the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.

The immediate impact of the shutdown includes the closing of national parks, forestalling the issuance of passports, gun permits, some federal loans and the furlough of all federal workers that perform non-essential services. That is between 600,000 and 900,000 federal employees.

The long-term effects of the fiscal impasse are still unknown as the country enters the tenth day of the shutdown, but professors at Hopkins have their own theories for its causes.

“The House Republicans were willing to shut down the government rather than see Obamacare financed. Obama was willing to shut down the government rather than see Obamacare go without the funding it needs to operate,” Carl Christ, a professor emeritus of the department of economics, wrote in an email to The News-Letter. 

While the passage of the House-proposed appropriations bills would have defunded Obamacare, the funds allotted to the Affordable Care Act are not tied to government appropriations. The website that allows citizens in 36 states to enroll in insurance exchanges was unveiled at the beginning of the month, although it was temporarily shuttered over the weekend to resolve some remaining technical issues.

Political science Professor Benjamin Ginsberg wrote that the GOP was hoping to use its appropriations powers as a political maneuver to frame the president and his party in a negative light.

“The GOP hoped that the president could be blamed for intransigence and insisting that the one program that bore his name was more important than hosts of other programs,” Ginsberg wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “Every week, House Republicans offer to fund a variety of programs and blame the Democrats for failing to approve these funding measures.”

Daniel Schlozman, an assistant professor in the department of political science, also commented on the impasse.

“In the first couple years of the administration, under undivided government, the President was willing to strike deals and the Republicans thought they could have a chance to stop Obamacare [if] they won the presidential election,” Schlozman said. “This is no longer true.”

Matthew Crenson, a professor emeritus of the department of the political science, wrote that the cause of the fiscal crisis is rooted in the increasing polarization of the political parties over the past 30 years.

“A political scientist. . .tracked partisan divisions all the way back to the end of Reconstruction in 1877, and [found] that today’s Congress is more polarized than at any time since then,” Crenson wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

“A review [by The Pew Center] of the trends since 1986 showed that virtually all the increase in partisan polarization was due to the rightward movement of Republicans,” he wrote.”

Schlozman believes that the partisan shift has become more apparent since the 2010 banning of earmarks, which are federal funds given to local projects favored by lawmakers.

These earmarks, which are typically attached to larger bills, gave one party a way to negotiate passage of bill unpopular to the other party by promising federal funds for so-called “pet projects” in certain districts.

“The most approximate reason we haven’t been able to pass [appropriation bills] is because we haven’t had majorities, because there are no earmarks, because there are no goodies, and the underlying ideological intentions of the Republicans are coming to the floor,” Schlozman said.

Given all of the forces that came together to cause the shutdown, hopes for a quick resolution have decreased.

Ginsberg wrote that, unlike the last government shutdown in 1995-1996, which cost the GOP seats in House in the 1996 general election, the urgency for Republicans to compromise is today diminished.

According to Ginsberg, this is because the House has passed bills to cover for the most unpopular aspects of the last government shutdown: no funding for federal employees on furlough or for military personnel stationed abroad.

“At the moment, Republicans can take pleasure in seeing a variety of agencies they view as malevolent and wasteful. . .closed along with many programs Republicans believe the nation can do without,” Ginsberg wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Crenson also wrote that the narrow focus on the repeal of Obamacare makes it even more difficult to reach a compromise.

While the impact of the government shutdown is being felt by many, concerns over the country breaching the federal debt limit are even more substantial.

If Congress does not give the Treasury Department the authority to pay its bills, the United States risks defaulting on its loans and potentially sparking a global recession as severe as the Great Recession.

“So far, the shutdown is not a crisis. Failure to raise the debt limit, however, could precipitate a crisis,” Crenson wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Crenson, however, is not alone in expressing that sentiment.

“It has to be done. The two sides will have to stop this hazardous game of chicken,” Christ wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

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