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U. S. Government Shutdown? End in Sight?

(Posted October 18, 2013)

Dr. Dennis Plane, Professor of Politics Photography by Kelly Russo, '14

Since the Oct. 1, Americans have witnessed the first federal government shutdown in the last two decades. Many proposals have been offered and rejected in the past weeks to reopen the government and raise the nation's debt ceiling (which must be accomplished by October 17). Americans and the world wonder: how much longer will the shut down last?
Dennis Plane, professor of politics at Juniata, speaks about the shutdown and possible predictions for the future.

Q: Was it appropriate for the U.S. government to allow the shut down to happen?

A: The public would have liked Congress and the President to figure this out earlier. Congress has the tradition of doing things at the last minute. Is it appropriate? Well, there is nothing illegal about it. The public is not at all happy with what the government is doing.

Q: What do each of the parties involved in the shutdown want to demonstrate?

A: It depends who you think shut down the government. If you believe that the Republicans shut it down, then it is because they are trying to get the Obama administration to step back the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. That's the goal of the Republicans: continue to fund the government at a lower level than the Democrats want and to delay Obamacare.
On the other hand, if you think the Democrats are to blame, the government has shut down because Democrats and Barack Obama are unwilling to compromise with Obamacare, even though it's very unpopular with the public. In the words of the Republicans, the program is not ready to launch.

Q: Are both parties to blame?

A: People have to decide, of course, whom they blame. For me, it seems like it is more the Republicans trying to accomplish through the budget process what they have not been able to accomplish through the lawmaking process, scaling back Obamacare. The program was passed by the House, passed by the Senate, and went through the Supreme Court. If you want to change the law, then try to change the law, but don't try to get it in the back door. There is a lot of blame to go around. The Republicans are more culpable than the Democrats, and public opinion supports this. But Obama and the Republicans have been unwilling to negotiate over Obamacare, too.

Q: What are they waiting for to end the shut down?

A: They're waiting to claim victory. Democrats could end the shutdown today by cancelling Obamacare. Republicans could end the shut down today by passing the budget at the levels that were agreed upon, and not touching Obama care. Either side could end it. The question is: who is going to back down first? I don't know.

Q: Is there a contingency plan in case the shutdown is not resolved by October 17?

A: There are two reasons for the shutdown. First, there is the lack of the ability of Congress to pass the budget by the deadline of October 1. Then, the other deadline comes on October 17. On this date, Congress can no longer borrow money. For a contingency plan, I think the debt ceiling deadline can be extended a bit. Maybe we can selectively pay our bills. Republicans insist on scaling back Obamacare as a condition to pass the budget. They do not have a contingency plan and I think that's the fundamental problem.

Q: What are the main consequences in U.S. society?

A: The consequences are different depending on different people. I think for some the consequences are devastating. If you work for the federal government and you no longer receive your paycheck, can you pay the rent, or your kids' tuition? The federal government is the biggest employer in the U.S. You are talking about park rangers, policy experts; people in all sorts of fields. For those people, the shut down has tangible, meaningful effects. For other people you may be not able to get the government services that you would otherwise get. You may not be able to get fishing permits nor visit a national park. For many Americans, the shutdown doesn't have large effects, but it costs more tax money. We pay more money to shut the government down than to have it running. Taxpayers are basically losing. If it's just a couple of weeks, it's not a big deal, but if it's for two or three months then students might not be able to get student loans and Social Security checks may not be able to be processed. Most Americans don't see a big difference yet due to the shut down, but it will grow as time goes on.

Q: How long will the shut down be happening?

A: Obviously, the first answer is too long. This is embarrassing. We should not have to do this. But looking into the crystal ball, the shutdown could last for a couple of months. I don't see the end in any time soon. They will find some temporary way to avoid the debt-ceiling deadline. Maybe a short-term extension of the debt ceiling deadline will keep the government closed. They will probably resolve it then, but the shutdown caused by a lack of budget will probably continue for another month or two.

-Katherine Tobar, Juniata Online Journalist

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Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.