The crisis of 2011? — Crooked Timber

I’ve been too absorbed by my book projects and by Australian politics (of which more soon) to pay a lot of attention to the forthcoming US elections, but 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 obvious 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.

5 thoughts on “The crisis of 2011? — Crooked Timber

  1. John why don’t you shove your head up your arse where it should be have you never heard of the second amendamdment?

    I was going to delete this idiot’s mis-spelt, offensive and irrelevant comment, but on reflection I thought he illustrated the kind of mentality I’m describing. For those interested, he’s using the address and posting from IP address He is now permanently banned

  2. John,

    Your public choice analysis of the possible turbulent aftermath of the upcoming congressional elections is more pessimistic than mine.

    After 2010, the Republicans will face the same electoral disciplines that the Democratic Party faces now. Electoral defeat and return to minority party status in the House. Too many cards must fall their way for the GOP to win the Senate in 2010.

    If the Republicans act as wreckers, they risk punishment in the 2012 elections, and reducing their chances of taking back the White House, and certainly their chances of winning back the Senate in 2012.

    Elections are surprisingly effective controls on parliaments and executive governments on the big issues. The big ticket items in the budget and in the regulatory sphere survive because they have majority support. Tampering with them risks electoral defeat.

    People follow politics because it interests them, rather than because they profit from a wiser more informed vote. Many voters are motivated by ideology and which, rightly or wrongly, leads them to vote for candidates of their choice based on the perceived competence of competing parties. Voters largely get the policies they want no matter how mistaken their beliefs might be about what those policies actually do.

    Keating’s law applies – modern politicians do not get out of bed until a focus group tells them which side. American politicians spend immense resources on finding out what voters likely to vote for them want so they can then deliver it.

    P.S. a large public choice literature can be found if you Google modelling parliamentary and presidential systems of government as multiple veto players. The real distinctions between political systems are to be found in the extent to which they afford political actors veto power over policy choices.

  3. Yes, in much of above, I agree with Jim Rose.
    I agree withthe post, that the US, like Australia has a clogged constitutional apparatus, if you like. I agree, probably to Jim’s dismay, that I don’t understand American right Conservatism; how it only learns perverse things and forgets the lessons of history and its own US history.
    Whatever the case as to the general trajectory of certain parts of the Professor’s outer anatomy relative to his anterior olfactory outlet, the spelling was abysmal and h(er)im/ it is cast unto outer darkness before the Full Majesty of the assembled multitudes of blogotariat, now in extraordinary plenary session!
    all hail!

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