‘Shutdown’ begins, and so does the blame game

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A corridor is marked closed to foot traffic at the U.S. Capitol, as the potential government shutdown unfolds.

The government missed its midnight deadline, so  the “shutdown” is on.

The state of play: The Senate passed (for the second time) a “clean” continuing resolution (CR). “Clean” means it doesn’t attempt to change any policies, just fund the ongoing operation of the government at current levels.

That predictable and predicted 54-46 vote along straight party lines sent the ball back to the House. If the House were to pass that same CR, the shutdown would end. But Speaker John Boehner has sent no signal that he has any intention of recommending, or even allowing, such a vote.

Boehner invited Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to negotiate over changes to Obamacare — perhaps even just the provisions of Obamacare that apply to the health insurance of members of Congress and their staffs — that could be added to a CR to avert the “shutdown.

Reid said no, the Senate would negotiate about such matters only after a CR had been adopted to avert the shutdown. That was it. Midnight came (actually 11 p.m. Minnesota time), the current continuing resolution expired and, with no new CR in place, bingo. “Shutdown.”

For those interested in the “blame game” portion of the politics going forward, Republicans will undoubtedly say that Reid’s unwillingness to even discuss small changes, changes wouldn’t affect any Americans other than members of Congress and their staffs, was the proximate cause of the shutdown.

If you want a more detailed tick tock of the steps leading to the final impasse, the Atlantic has a good one here.

As the National Journal put it: “Democrats are still saying they won’t pass any bill that cuts into Obamacare, and Republicans are still saying they won’t pass any bill that doesn’t.”

That however, is an oversimplification. There are Republicans in the House ready to vote for a clean CR.

If (and that’s the big if) Boehner allowed such a measure to come to a vote, most analysts think there are enough of those Repubs, combined with all House Dems, to pass the CR and end the shutdown, while allowing the Tea Party-ish wingers to vote no and continue to look for ways to express their determination to undo the health care law.

Democrats may say — and I believe there is substantial truth in this — that the proximate cause of the “shutdown” was that Boehner would not allow a bill, that likely had majority support in both houses, to come to a vote in the House.

A zillion polls are being taken, which generally suggest the public doesn’t approve of what Congress is doing, and blames everyone, but congressional Republicans most. The overall approval rating of 10 percent for Congress as a whole is the lowest ever recorded. By comparison, President Obama’s utterly mediocre approval ratings, which hover in the mid-40s, make him look almost beloved.

CNN’s pollster has devised a snotty new question, which asks who in this picture is behaving more like “spoiled children.” CNN’s writeup of the poll explains:

In a separate question, 49% of all people in the poll say that Obama is acting like a responsible adult in this budget battle, with 47% describing him as a spoiled child. While that’s nothing to brag about, it’s better than Congress.

According to the poll, 58% say congressional Democrats are acting like spoiled children, with that number rising to 69% for the GOP in Congress. Only one in four say congressional Republicans are acting like responsible adults.

Unquote shutdown

I keep putting “shutdown” in quotes (I’ll stop now) as a reminder that that word is a pretty big overstatement for what the government is doing. Those who are deemed to be performing essential services will continue working and getting paid. This includes not only the obvious military and flight-controller type jobs, but a great many more, including the members of Congress and their staffs.  Social Security checks will go out. Patients on Medicare can still see their doctors.

The rough estimate I have heard is that roughly 50 percent (probably a bit more) of the federal government continues, indefinitely, during the shutdown, leaving perhaps about 800,000 federal employees on furlough.

I don’t mean to minimize the size or impact of such a move, and that doesn’t include others whose jobs might be affected by the partial shutdown nor the millions who would be inconvenienced or worse by their inability to access federal agencies or services. But the ordinary world, something that is more than half open is not shut down. Maybe partially shut down.

Spin city

Both sides are working on their spins. Republicans know that one problem for them, one reason they are getting blamed, is that they are perceived (with plenty of cause) as enemies of compromise. I saw Rep. Tom Price, Republican of Georgia, trying to turn this perception on its head. Paraphrasing, here’s what he said:

There’s something we (Republicans) want, which is to do away with Obamacare and something they (Democrats) want, which is for it to proceed. We have offered three compromises. Repeal Obamacare. Defund Obamacare. Delay the implementation of Obamacare by a year. They have simply said no to all three compromises and have offered nothing except that they should get what they want, which is for the implementation and rollout of the health care law to proceed and for the government to continue operating at current levels. Price suggests it’s unreasonable to portray Republicans as the ones who are being intransigent or unreasonable.

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I saw Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and a member of the Dem leadership explaining his party’s justification for its actions. Paraphrased, he said Obamacare is not but a proposal but a law, passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the president, and upheld as (mostly) constitutional by the Supreme Court. The 2012 presidential election was, to some extent, a contest between a candidate (Mitt Romney) who wanted to repeal the law and Obama, who wanted proceed with the implementation of the law. Obama won. One faction of one party of one house of the Congress still wants to repeal the law, but lacks the votes to do so, except in that one house, and one house cannot by itself repeal a bill.

So it has decided to take hostage the budget process and refuse to allow a continuing resolution to fund the normal operation of the federal government unless the Senate and the president agree to stop the implementation of the law. He said this was like dealing with a bully, who threatens to punch you in the face unless you give him what he wants. If you give him what he wants, he will know that he can get whatever he wants by threatening to slug you. And, with the next big deadline faced by the government — the need to raise the debt ceiling — just weeks away, the bully will surely raise his demands even higher since the potential financial consequences facing the country if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling are more serious than a government shutdown, Schumer argues that it is vital for the Senate to just say no to the bully on this round.

Disintegration of process

Political scientist Kathryn Pearson, the University of Minnesota’s Congress expert, said the latest impasse is in some sense the latest meltdown in the continuation of a years-long disintegration of what is supposed to be the process by which Congress produces a budget. The budget procedures requires that each house first pass 12 bills, appropriating funds for each segment of federal spending. If the bills differ across houses (as they likely would), a conference committee seeks a compromise for each bill that both houses can pass. Continuing resolutions aren’t supposed to be the way budgeting occurs, CRs are supposed to be stopgap measures to prevent a shutdown if the normal procedure breaks down.

But on this cycle, Pearson said the two houses are so far apart on politics and policy that Congress made virtually no pretense of following the orderly rules. “Even if we had a continuing resolution to prevent a shutdown, that would be irresponsible” compared to the way it’s designed to work. Pearson told me.

But congressional leaders barely talked about following regular order. “It’s always been ‘what’s the continuing resolution going to look like?”

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Comments (29)

  1. Submitted by Tim Walker on 10/01/2013 - 07:34 am.

    Sen. Schumer has it exactly right.

    The ACA became law through the proper legislative procedures, and was vetted and approved by the SCOTUS (with one small exception)..

    If Republicans want to change the law, they need to follow the same legislative process.

    They are, indeed, being bullies.

    Shame on them … and a pox on their House!

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/01/2013 - 09:29 am.

      Shumer’s argument is bogus

      By last count, this law has been unilaterally modified 17 times since its passage, including major carve-outs for unions and other groups, a year-long delay for the employer mandate, and recently a one-year delay on out-of-pocket cost limits.

      What the republicans were asking for, with the delay of the individual mandate, is simply asking to treat the American people the same way Obama and the democrats are treating their large corporate and union donors.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/01/2013 - 09:45 am.

        The individual mandate

        is necessary for the financial balance of the plan.
        Without it, Affordable Health Care will not be affordable.
        So delaying (when will the delay end?) that part of the plan is really gutting the whole plan and restricting adequate health care to the rich, which was the purpose all along.

        • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/01/2013 - 11:11 am.

          And therein lies the problem

          with all collectivist policies. In order for any of their ideology to work, it requires *mandatory participation* of the people, which is antithetical to a free society.

          They used to have a wall in eastern Europe to prevent the people from escaping. But this society has devolved to the point where the majority actually prefer to be wards of the state.

          • Submitted by Tim Walker on 10/01/2013 - 03:03 pm.

            I have no problem paying mandatory taxes to provide for the common good of my city, state, and nation, be it for defense, police and fire protection, or a whole lot of other “collectivist” activities.

            How do you stand on that front, Mr. Tester? Are you against paying taxes to pay our troops? Or is that too “collectivist” for you?

            I’m betting that you are okay with that.

            But somehow, in your mind, if I and others decide to add “a minimum level of basic health care” to the list of things like police/fire protection and national defense that we’re happy to support with our taxes, that turns us into willing “wards of the state”?

            Just, wow.

            • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/01/2013 - 06:53 pm.

              I would guess

              there’s a whole lot of mandatory things you’d be ok with that would normally be left to people to choose for themselves in a free society.

              Unlike national defense, police and fire services are not constitutionally protected. In fact, believe it or not, most people in this country live in communities that are served by *volunteer* fire departments. And some people in this country have private police forces and are just fine with having that choice. I know I’ve never been saved from a criminal attack by a local police officer, who’s primarily duty is to take your report after the fact. Where I live, even my garbage collection service is left up to me to choose. You probably think that’s a bad idea.

              And the only taxes I support are *voluntary* taxes, e.g., sales taxes where you only pay the tax if you choose to buy something.

              • Submitted by John Eidel on 10/03/2013 - 10:34 am.

                Volunteer Firefighters

                You state, ” In fact, believe it or not, most people in this country live in communities that are served by *volunteer* fire departments.”

                That is not remotely close to true. I would pull up 2010 census numbers, but their website is closed due to the shutdown. Here are 2000 census numbers regarding urban vs. rural populations in the US: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/census_issues/archives/metropolitan_planning/cps2k.cfm

                Approximately 73% of Americans live in urban areas. Volunteer fire services are usually reserved for very small rural communities. I am not aware of any cities making a mass exodus towards volunteer firefighters. If I am not correct, a citation backing up your claim would be welcome.

      • Submitted by Chris Farmer-Lies on 10/01/2013 - 12:38 pm.


        This is, I believe, attempt #42 to repeal some or all of the Affordable Care Act – as long as we’re talking numbers. Fact is that dollars spent on the ACA have no more or less impact on the federal budget than any other dollars, and it’s certainly irrelevant to passing a CR. The only difference between this attempt and the last 41 is that the republicans are getting a national stage by hurting a lot of people.

  2. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 10/01/2013 - 07:56 am.

    GOP vs GOP…NY Rep. Peter King on the Tea Partiers:

    “They live in these narrow echochambers. They listen to themselves and their tea party friends. That keeps them going, forgetting that the rest of the country thinks we’re crazy.”

  3. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 10/01/2013 - 08:18 am.

    Budgeting Process

    Wouldn’t we be in a better place if the Senate had actually been passing budgets year after year? Even when Dems controlled both houses and the Presidency, they weren’t passing budgets. This process has been broken but this isn’t the breaking point. We reached that a few years back.
    Also, it’s awful for Congress, which makes laws, to try and delay Obamacare for a year and yet the President, without any legal language to help him, can delay parts of it. Do I have that right? Those two idea, together, do not point to any kind of healthy respect for democracy.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/01/2013 - 09:47 am.

      Granted that

      the President is pushing his powers as Chief -Executive- to control the implementation (execution) of the Affordable Health Care act. What would be illegal would be for him to actually change the terms of that act — he’s skating on that edge.

      • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 10/01/2013 - 02:18 pm.


        If there is no language in the bill to allow the President to decide to delay implementation (and there isn’t), then the President is outside of the law. If a future President thinks that implementation of, say, the tax code, is a problem, can that President unilaterally decide to delay it? I can’t imagine that anyone would think so.
        There seems to be this kind of thinking on the left that the House has no legitimate role to play in governing. Per the Constitution, the House controls the purse strings of the government. They set the budget and the Senate and President react to that. Obviously there should be discussions between at least the houses of Congress, but it all starts with the House. Reid has decided that its better to risk a shutdown than to even negotiate with the GOP. Per reports, he is the one that argued Obama from doing so. That’s at least part of the problem.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/01/2013 - 04:23 pm.


          The talking point du jour!

          The President is well within his authority to phase in implementation of the reporting requirements. Presidents have a wide discretion in deciding how laws are enforced, based on their constitutional authority to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Very few laws are self-executing–almost all of them require some regulatory action in order to be implemented effectively. There is a difference between “delaying enforcement so more effective regulations can be developed,” and “I’m not going to enforce this because I don’t like it.”

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 10/01/2013 - 10:16 am.

      More than a few years ago

      Bush did not allow the costs of the Iraq war in the budget at all

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/01/2013 - 10:40 am.


      Is Congress really holding the country hostage, or is it just one faction of one party?

      If we really want to see the will of Congress at work, Speaker Boehner would allow a clean CR bill come to a vote. Majority Leader Cantor would allow members to vote according to their best judgment, without regard to party discipline. If that happens, we can talk about Congress doing its job making laws.

      BTW, just what are the constitutional roles of the Speaker of the House and the House Majority Leader? Anyone?

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/01/2013 - 11:07 am.

      You can have your myths but you don’t have the facts….

      You say:

      …when Dems controlled both houses and the Presidency, they weren’t passing budgets…

      The facts are that the Dems had a very short time for a filibuster-proof majority


      What this shows is is that there were only two time periods during the 111th Congress when the Democrats had a 60 seat majority:

      From July 7. 2009 (when Al Franken was officially seated as the Senator from Minnesota after the last of Norm Coleman’s challenges came to an end) to August 25, 2009 (when Ted Kennedy died, although Kennedy’s illness had kept him from voting for several weeks before that date at least); and

      From September 25, 2009 (when Paul Kirk was appointed to replace Kennedy) to February 4, 2010 (when Scott Brown took office after defeating Martha Coakley);

      For one day in September 2009, Republicans lacked 40 votes due to the resignation of Mel Martinez, who was replaced the next day by George LeMieux

      So, to the extent there was a filibuster proof majority in the Senate it lasted during two brief periods which lasted for a total of just over five months when counted altogether (and Congress was in its traditional summer recess for most of the July-August 2009 time frame).


      (end quote)

      Five months, total, but split into several segments.

      Hardly enough time to pass a budget, and not even near the deadlines for the budget.

      • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 10/01/2013 - 02:10 pm.


        Neal, one big problem with your post. You can’t filibuster a budget bill.

        • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/02/2013 - 01:26 pm.

          You mean this???


          As Congress struggled to assemble a stopgap measure to finance the government at least into the first months of 2011, House and Senate Republicans on Friday hailed their ability to derail a $1.2 trillion spending measure put forward by Senate Democrats, and promised to use their new Congressional muscle to respond to public demands to shrink


          (end quote)

          • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 10/02/2013 - 04:04 pm.

            Not Sure Where the NYT Got it Wrong But

            See this here: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/feb/13/jack-lew/white-house-chief-staff-jack-lew-says-budget-requi/

            Most business in the Senate is subject to filibustering — that is, actions, or even just threats, to talk a bill to death. Filibusters can be overcome by what’s known as a “cloture” vote that shuts off debate and moves a measure toward final consideration. For the Senate to agree to cloture requires 60 votes — a high threshold that many Senate majorities are unable to muster on controversial votes (and, increasingly, even on relatively uncontroversial votes).

            However, the filibuster cannot be used to block a budget resolution. That’s because the Budget Act sets out a specific amount of time for debate in the Senate — 50 hours. If a specific amount of debate time is enshrined in the controlling statute, the filibuster is moot. So a simple majority — not 60 votes — is all that’s required to pass a budget resolution.

            Indeed, passing a budget resolution by at least 60 votes has become increasingly rare in recent years, according to CRS data. Since 1994, the Senate vote has exceeded that vote threshold just three times, either in the initial vote or on a subsequent vote in which lawmakers consider an identical House-Senate version of the resolution.

            • Submitted by jeff pemper on 10/04/2013 - 04:32 am.

              Mr. Defor left out some “Politifacts”

              From your link-
              “A budget resolution is just a blueprint; being able to implement many of its provisions would likely require 60 votes eventually,said Roy T. Meyers, a political scientist at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County who specializes in budget issues. “Lew is absolutely on the mark on the bigger picture,” Meyers said.”

              And in the Politifact conclusion-
              “On the larger question of putting together what we think most people would call the “federal budget,” a majority party may be able to get its budget resolution passed, but that’s not the same thing as actually enacting spending bills to implement it. In all likelihood, these bills would require 60 votes in the Senate.”

              So,Mr. Defor, When you said this-
              “You can’t filibuster a budget bill.”

              It appears that you may be wrong.

  4. Submitted by Rich Crose on 10/01/2013 - 10:28 am.


    If a radical religious group declared that they would shut down the United States government if they didn’t get their way, we would call them terrorists.

    When a radical political group declares that they will shut down the United States government if they don’t get their way, it is politics as usual.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/01/2013 - 11:00 am.

      Sometimes forcing a government shutdown is a good thing

      In 1995, the result was Clinton signing the first of four balanced budgets. And in the elections the following year, the republicans picked up 6 seats in the U.S. senate.

      • Submitted by Chris Nelson on 10/01/2013 - 12:07 pm.

        6 seats?

        In the November 1996 elections, the Republicans gained senate seats in Alabama, Arkansas, and Nebraska, but the Democrats gained a seat in South Dakota. There was also a special election in January 1996 where the Democrats gained a seat in Oregon. That looks like a Republican gain of 2 seats (or 1, if you include the Oregon special).

      • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 10/01/2013 - 01:26 pm.


  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/01/2013 - 10:36 am.

    The problem for the Republicans is that they are making this all about Obama–a person who will never run for another office as long as he lives. His reputation is made, and as with any former president, his reputation will only rise as time goes on.

    Meanwhile, the Republicans, on the opposite side of this conflict, will have to live with the fallout from their behavior for years to come. They are against the flow of history–the inexorable economics of a bloated healthcare system. If they succeed in tearing down Obamacare–they own the inevitable collapse of the present system. If Obamacare continues, and improves lives, they have lost their issue to restrict access to healthcare.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/01/2013 - 11:06 am.

    Kamikaze caucus

    Tea Partiers in the House are being (accurately) portrayed as 3-year-olds in mid-temper tantrum. The law was passed by Congress. Considerable delay (2+ years) was built into the law so that insurance exchanges could be established and some of the kinks worked out before it was fully implemented. It’s still not fully implemented, and won’t be until at least 2015.

    The law was challenged in the courts and ruled constitutional by the right-leaning Supreme Court. The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, and, as we’re often reminded by people who call themselves “conservative,” this is a nation of laws, not of men. An argument could be made — I read just such an argument this morning — that Republicans in the House of Representatives are violating their Oath of Office by holding the government and its operations hostage over the law’s implementation, and are thus subject to impeachment.

    Most Americans — lest we forget amid all the hysteria — are *not* directly affected by the Affordable Care Act. Most people who work for larger companies are already insured through their workplace. It’s not a good system, but it’s what we have, and it’s still in place. Most old people are covered by Medicare. The ACA isn’t intended for them, either. Most of the really poor are covered by Medicaid. The ACA is not intended for them, either. It’s intended to apply to those 40+ million not old enough for Medicare, not poor enough for Medicaid, and not wealthy enough to be able to afford health insurance on their own. Those 40+ million are currently without health insurance of any kind.

    I lived for a dozen years without any sort of health insurance, and if I were a decade or two younger, I’d have been overjoyed to see something like the Affordable Care Act. As it is, I’m covered by Medicare, and quite happy to have some government help with health care costs. Some employers, rather than incur the modest cost of seeing their low-paid employees able to access health care, would rather cut back the hours worked of those employees so that they (the employees) don’t qualify. This suggests (well, it more than suggests, but I’m being polite) something not at all admirable about those employers and their values.

    Mike Littwin, who writes for the Colorado Independent (a Colorado news organization akin to MinnPost) refers to the Republican intransigence as the “suicide caucus.”


    I think he might be right, both figuratively and literally. It seems possible to me that the Republican Party will implode, with Tea Partiers going their own, American Taliban, way, and more moderate Republicans — still plenty conservative in this day and age — forming their own group, or adopting the name and platform of the current party, while the Tea Partiers adopt some other name and platform.

    If nothing else, the shutdown illustrates in graphic terms that at least a portion of the Republican Party isn’t at all interested in governing. It’s interested in *ruling,* and in an undeniably autocratic way.

  7. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 10/01/2013 - 12:20 pm.

    …and come to think about it…

    it’s a funny thing..The Library of Congress will be shut down – where history enlightens us and the word is a sacred trust, yet…

    NSA (no sacred trust here; no way ) will still continue playing I-Spy; already creating havoc with the our civil liberties…who will be in charge to watch dog NSA; whomever you are, speak up please?

    Who answers to whom when government is not regulating overt practices? There has to be more side effects that will appear as the days pass?

    Only the moon is a sure thing; rising after sunset…lays low at sunrise; same ol’, same ol’. Nobody told Moon to go home…bless you Moon at this most dangerous time…

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/02/2013 - 11:18 am.

    This is legislative terrorism

    If you want to change or repeal a law according to our constitution you have to win enough votes in both houses and get a president to sign the law; and/or have enough votes to override a veto. This business of shutting down the government because you’ve decided you don’t like a law previously passed is simply legislative terrorism.

    We can have room for extreme points of view, they can enter the discourse and win or lose upon the power of their arguments. But this is extreme politics by extremist who lack the power to change a law by normal constitutional means and don’t seem to care about anything other than changing a single law. THIS we cannot live with. If these acts of legislative terrorism are not brought to an end we will see the end of the United States as we know it. Scoundrels wrapped in American flags will be our undoing after all.

  9. Submitted by Richard Helle on 10/05/2013 - 03:13 pm.

    The real fear of the GOP

    Forget about ideology and forget about national debt. The thing the GOP is most afraid of and the sole reason they’re willing to tank the economy is the real possibility that the ACA will be wildly successful. Imagine the consequences for American business if it becomes affordable to have health care coverage and not have to work for a large corporation. Engineers and mid level execs will be able to strike out on their own without the fear that a heart attack or cancer will take their homes. Entrepreneurship will explode and Americans will be able to get back to what we’ve always done better then any other country in history, invent and innovate. Corporatists on both sides of the aisle will this tooth and nail.

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