Home > World Events > The Shutdown of 2011, in 2013

The Shutdown of 2011, in 2013

October 1st, 2013

Now that the US government has shut down, I thought I would look back at a post from 2010, in which I predicted such an outcome, expecting it to come in 2010. As it turned out that was premature, but much of the analysis still stands up pretty well, notably including the final sentence

The crisis of 2011? (repost)

It seems to be widely projected that the Republicans could regain control of the House of Representatives. What surprises me is that no-one has drawn the obvious inference as to what will follow, namely a shutdown of the US government.

It seems obvious to me that a shutdown will happen – the Republicans of today are both more extreme and more disciplined than last time they were in a position to shut down the government, and they did it then. And they hate Obama at least as much now as they hated Clinton in 1995 (maybe not quite as much as they hated him by 2000, but they are getting there faster this time).

The big question is how a shutdown will be resolved. It seems to me that it will be a lot harder for Obama to induce the Republicans to back down than it was for Clinton. IIRC, no piece of legislation proposed by Obama has received more than a handful of votes in the House, and (unlike the case with Bob Dole in 1995) no aspiring Republican presidential candidate will have an interest in resolving the problem – the base would be furious. On the other hand, the price Obama would have to pay if he capitulated the Republicans would demand from Obama in a capitulation would be huge, certainly enough to end his presidency at one term. So, I anticipate a lengthy shutdown, and some desperate expedients to keep things running.

As far as I can tell, there is no mechanism for resolving this kind of deadlock – the House can’t be dissolved early as would happen in a parliamentary system. I think the Founders probably envisaged the House as having a “power of the purse” comparable to that of the British Commons. Whether they did or not, I’m sure this argument will be made, probably by people who have argued, until very recently, that the power of the Executive is essentially unlimited.

But, my understanding is limited and I’d be keen to hear what others think about this.
[1] I’ve tried to clarify my point about capitulation, which was poorly expressed the first time.

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  1. October 4th, 2013 at 13:50 | #1

    Just have air traffic controllers announce that next Tuesday they will stop working. The standoff will be over in no time.

  2. Fran Barlow
    October 4th, 2013 at 15:25 | #2

    @Socrates

    How many people even know who their local Councillor is?

    Indeed. I’ve just moved here (Holroyd, Sydney) and the council brochure doesn’t even have a map with the wards in it. I suppose I could ring them up or check the website, and then deduce my councillor …

  3. Jim Rose
    October 5th, 2013 at 10:53 | #3

    defunding is commonplace in the USA. everything from wars to specific policies including prohibiting the use of DOD funds to transfer gitmo detainees into the USA. a lot of democrats vote to defund Obama from implimenting his mandate on that.

    it is routine for all of a department’s appropriations to be conditional on cabinet members and the chair of the Fed certifying that no funds were spent on purpose X in department Y.

    the courts drew the line at defunding the salaries of two named employees in the 1940s.

  4. Alan
    October 6th, 2013 at 06:29 | #4

    There have only been 4 state shutdowns since 1776. There have been 18 federal shutdowns, all since 1974. People are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own definition of ‘common’.

    Voting to defund or fund particular activities is a legitimate exercise of the power of the purse. These chiliastic shutdowns have no fiscal purpose and are purely about trying to undo electoral and legislative results the Republicans don’t like.

  5. John Quiggin
    October 6th, 2013 at 07:28 | #5

    @Alan

    As regards having ones own definitions, all but the 1990s examples of “shutdowns” are retrospective reclassification of minor disputes. There was no notion at the time that the government was shutting down.

  6. Jim Rose
    October 6th, 2013 at 09:44 | #6

    G@John Quiggin several of the carter shutdowns were over abortion funding. Hardly minor?

  7. Ikonoclast
    October 6th, 2013 at 10:06 | #7

    As well as the government shutdown, the US faces another debt ceiling deadline in less than 2 weeks IIRC. Of course, all this pain is self-inflicted due to the ideological blindness of the hard right.

    In addition, to this self-inflicted pain, the pain of limits to growth, climate change, species exctinctions etc. looms.

    I would suggest watching secondary oil exporters’ economies. At the point where domestic consumption of oil eats up all their oil and they cease to be oil exporters, this is the point (approximately) where they collapse into chaos. Libya, Syria, Egypt etc. This will spread. It is spreading now. Pakistan and Yemen, to name two, are teetering on the brink.

  8. Ikonoclast
    October 6th, 2013 at 13:12 | #8

    I had to laugh. I was reading some Collapsist website which said the West is going to collapse. (True, but the pretty much the rest of the world is going to collapse too.)

    Then, they advised the the five best countries to move to avoid the collapse. I kid you not, they recommended Chile, Uraguay, Thailand, Malaysia and Mexico. Those countries would be very high on my list of places not to be when the global collapse gets under way.

    BTW, I am not a Collapsist or Survivalist in the commonly accepted sense. My basic thinking is;

    (a) Australia or NZ might be as good as anywhere and possibly better than many other places.
    (b) The Collapse process will be so unpredictable you can’t predict the best place to be anyway.
    (c) When things get really bad you won’t even want to be alive.

  9. Alan
    October 6th, 2013 at 19:38 | #9

    @Jim Rose

    How do the motivations of political actors increase or decrease the effect their actions have on the political system?

  10. October 6th, 2013 at 19:48 | #10

    Pr Q on JULY 16, 2010 said:


    It seems obvious to me that a shutdown will happen – the Republicans of today are both more extreme and more disciplined than last time they were in a position to shut down the government, and they did it then. And they hate Obama at least as much now as they hated Clinton in 1995 (maybe not quite as much as they hated him by 2000, but they are getting there faster this time).

    His prediction was falsified for the particular REP episode in question. On 26 OCT 2010 I correctly predicted that the REPS “would blink”:


    One bright note: I am pretty sure that the Tea Party-REPs will blink on their threat of government shutdown in 2011. Too many of the REP’s base constituents (military, farmers, seniors) depend on government money or programs for them to risk going ballistic. They are bluffing and any half-way competent President could call their bluff and force them to fold.

    The question is: what has changed? What events have occurred in the past two years that have emboldened the REPs to risk electoral suicide in the near future? And why has Obama grown a spine and refused to back-down?

    Two things: in policy the REPs are more worried that Obamacare will succeed, rather than fail. In politics, the REP base is effectively signalling an inclination towards quasi-secession, that is shutting down the federal government is now considered a feature, rather than bug, of REP political strategy.

    In policy, Obamacare has moved from legislative deliberation through to executive implementation. It is no longer being debated and possibly repealed in the Halls of Congress. And this means that the REPs are scared of its possible success, not failure.

    Once Obamacare takes root in the US welfare state it will become no more possible to repeal than Medicare. In some part of their psyche the REP congressmen know this and are willing to take a hit for their Tea Party base to show their fidelity to the small government cause. There is an element of the Alamo in this last stand against Obamacare.

    In politics the Tea Party-REPs run on secessionist emotional fuel, as indicated by their moniker which harkens back to the US’s original act of secession from the UK empire. Obviously the Southern base of the REPs is steeped in secessionist lore. And the REPs Southern base has become steadily more alienated from Washington ever since the passage of Civil Rights in 1964.

    Secession is not as far-fetched to some REPs as it seems to us. A google search of “Tea Party” + “secession” returns 446,00 hits.

    In many ways the REP base is already seceding from mainstream USA, both economically and ethnically. The REPs elite donor base has already made paying tax and benefiting from public health and education an optional choice. The REPs popular voter base has practised “white flight” to avoid the problems of urban blight. The continued gerrymandering of US districts, combined with the base dominance of primary contests, has entrenched extremism in both parties, although much more so in the REPs.

    Conversely, the Obama-DEMs having tasted an impressive electoral victory in 2012 have seen the demographic writing on the wall. They have the upper hand and are using it for a change, probably knowing that the REPs extreme behaviour is alienating moderate voters. They also know that a shutdown will alienate traditional REP voters, service personnel, farmers and the elderly.

    I dont have any clear model for predicting the REPs next phase of political operations. My best guess is more of the same until the party loses both houses of congress which might happen sooner rather than later. Then they have two choices: either buckle under and pucker up to their new welfare state overlords. Or follow through on their implicit threat of secession, at county or state level.

    Given the REPs penchant for taking the nuclear option I would not be prepared to bet against the quasi-secessionist option, although I have no idea how this idea might pan out in practical terms.

    US tea party is effectively a form of Secession, based on economic & ethnic interests. It does not q

  11. Alan
    October 7th, 2013 at 05:37 | #11

    There is one mroe element to the Republican panic, which extends beyond the tea party faction. Until the middle 90s California was a solid Republican state, a bigger version of Texas. The Republicans managed to flip it to the Democrats by a series of hamfisted proposals directed against the Hispanic community and it is now among the deepest of the deep blue states.

    Texas remains in the Republican column, for now, but there are signs that Texas may be about to follow the California track. If Texas flipped the Republicans would have zero prospect of winning a presidential election without flipping a large Democrat state back to their column.

    They have lost the Senate and did not regain it, as expected, at the last election. Their House majority is a product of malapportionment. Their presidential prospects are not rosy. Parties in a state of panic do stupid things.

  12. October 7th, 2013 at 19:53 | #12

    Shorter Strocchi: The REPs are self-destructing because their:

    - core policy plank – private sector health insurance – is economically failing and their
    – core political constituency – older, whiter, married households – are demographically ailing

    Generally speaking a personality in the grip of a mental disease (eg drug addict) needs to hit rock bottom before they recover or self-destruct. Likewise a polity in the grip of mental disease (eg Nippon in the thirties) needed firebombing its capital, two other cities annihilated by atom bombs and a Red Army attack on the home land army before it came to its senses.

    So I predict the REPs will have to suffer an almighty electoral whipping before they reform and recover their political fortunes. In the meantime they are likely to become like a mentally disturbed person backed into a corner: unpredictable and possibly violent.

    My twelve step recovery plan for the REPs starts with them maintaining their populist ethnic conservatism but drastically moderating their elitist economic regressivism and move in the direction of populist economic progressivism. That would bring the missing working class white voters out of their electoral black holes in the Mid-West and hopefully restore reason and common sense to the Grand Old Party.

  13. October 8th, 2013 at 00:02 | #13

    You really are fixated on race, aren’t you? Why? Do you really believe that race is a determinant of a person’s value?

    If so, you really need to move beyond your current circle and do so with open eyes and mind.

    Take that as a bowl of troll-tucker! Enjoy.

  14. October 8th, 2013 at 02:38 | #14

    Megan said:


    You really are fixated on race, aren’t you?

    Jack Strocchi said:


    older, whiter, married households

    Well one out of three ain’t bad by your standards, kiddo.

    PS It wasnt me who coined the saying: “Demography is destiny”.

  15. October 9th, 2013 at 19:19 | #15

    Shorter, Shorter Strocchi:

    The political meltdown of the REPs stems from its failure to fulfill the function of a Right-wing political movement, namely to establish the higher-status citizens of its state. Higher-status US citizens are losing their ascendancy, both at home and abroad:

    - Caucasian/Christian populace losing national ethnic ascendancy to Obama coalition;
    - Capitalist elite losing global economic ascendancy to PRC

    The REPs have put themselves in a bit of a bind through inherent contradictions in their partisan base. They could shift to the progressive economic Left to draw more working class whites into its fold, those identified by Sean Trende in “The case of the missing white voters”. This would be a good fit with the general ethnic conservatism of the pool of potential populist REP voters. A sort of Right-wing version of David Milibands “Blue Labor” strategy, successfully utilized by Nixon & Reagan.

    But the REP party’s elite is heavily globalized and therefore supports economic regressive policies, such as Open Borders. I don’t see that lot making any concessions to people who have to actually work for a living.

  16. Jim Rose
    October 9th, 2013 at 20:39 | #16

    @jack strocchi on hatred ofclinton and obama, bush and reagan were hated by their opponents too

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