Expert UCI insight on potential government shutdown
- September 27, 2023
- Political scientists Beckmann and DeSipio offer comments on the event’s lasting impact
With government funding slated to run out on Sept. 30, two political scientists from the University of California, Irvine – Matthew Beckmann and Louis DeSipio – are sharing comments on the cause and potential impact of a government shutdown.
Why is this happening?
Matthew Beckmann, UCI associate professor of political science: “Congress is a cauldron of conflicting personalities, priorities, principles and parties. The fault line usually highlights conflicts between the parties – Democrats versus Republicans – but the key divide right now is Republicans versus Republicans.
In the House, the majority party typically reaches a deal among its members, which the Speaker can bring to the floor and pass by a party-line vote. The problem right now is that the Republicans can’t agree among themselves about what to do. The next problem will be that the Senate (and President) will disagree with whatever the House Republicans finally come up with. A government shutdown thus appears likely.”
Louis DeSipio, UCI professor of political science and Chicano/Latino studies: “Professor Beckmann sums up the unique problems in funding the government this time well. I would add the underlying problem of an increasing partisan divide over the last 15 years in both the electorate and among members of Congress. Former President Trump adds an extra malignant presence in the debate. He encourages the most intransigent members of his own party, in part out of some hope that an interruption in government funding will slow the Justice Department’s prosecution of the federal indictments that he is facing.”
What’s at stake?
Beckmann: “At one level, the most obvious stakes are the daily functioning of the federal government. Things like national parks and passport processing will shut down when government funding runs out. The bigger stakes are about federal policy – which programs to fund, which to cut, and how to pay for all of it. Of course, the stake that is front and center to many lawmakers is the next election.”
DeSipio: “The protracted debates about annual funding bills (or continuing resolutions) reinforces popular perceptions that government is ineffective. So, in addition to the short-term inability of the government to provide specific services, it reinforces the perception among many in the electorate that the federal government is bloated and only serving elite interests.
The consequences of the shutdown will certainly be fodder in the 2024 elections, but it’s unlikely that there will be any national consensus. Instead, these consequences will be viewed quite differently across the partisan spectrum.”
It feels like we’ve “been here before.” How can the government stop the recurrence of this cyclical topic?
Beckmann: “We are in an era where lawmakers not only disagree but also have an incentive to be disagreeable. The zealous partisan fighters get money and publicity; the most effective policy negotiators get pilloried as sell-outs. Not surprisingly, partisans often fight until something – e.g., a government shutdown or default – forces them to recalibrate.”
DeSipio: “The nearly even division of Democratic and Republican members of the House and Senate ensure that budget brinksmanship will be the norm for the foreseeable future. Lessons are briefly learned after the more protracted shutdowns, but by the time the next budget impasse appears, new members have been elected who put the short-term gains that they perceive from more extreme behavior over the nation’s interests.”
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