What Do You Mean, The Government Shut Down?

You may have heard that our federal government has shut down. It’s a weird topic, because it raises questions, like “OMFG ARE U SERIOUS”, and “CAN U JUST NOT EVEN??”, which isn’t usually the tone that we give to the most successful constitutional republic in history.

What’s actually going on?

For the government to operate, it needs to know how much money to spend – on each of its agencies, programs and administrators. This includes overhead costs and contracts as well as basic income payments to federal workers. The last “budget” Congress passed went only until Oct. 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.

Our two political parties couldn’t agree on the final number: Democrats in the Senate passing a short-term fix that extends current funding, a “clean continuing resolution,” and Republicans in the House of Representatives led by Speaker John Boehner Senator Ted Cruz Fox News Channel passing several continuing resolutions that included cutting funding for provisions of Obamacare, because they hate it so much.

Democrats said, “Why would we debate Obamacare, something we’re not likely to do in good times, when we seriously need to pass a budget?” Republicans countered, “Yeah, but we reaaaalllllly hate Obamacare! Come on, just let us destroy a little bit of your signature law,” to which Democrats said “No,” and voilá! No deal = No government*

Include the asterisk, because there are contingencies to make sure that we’re not going to lose the most basic, essential role of the state, keeping us safe in the immediate present. The military is still getting paid, but we’re not paying for things that keep our nation safe and strong in the long-term, like the Centers for Disease Control, or Head Start pre-school programs.

How does it end?

The shutdown is going to last at least a week, and there are few serious plans to end it before Oct. 17, the deadline for raising the so-called “debt ceiling.”

There have been proposals for a “discharge petition“, where all the Democrats partner with the few remaining moderate Republicans to overrule the speaker’s Republican majority and end the shutdown.  The problem with this idea is whom it would rely on for action. To lead a coup against the speaker, Democrats would need the moderate Republicans who are exactly the closest supporters of the speaker and are the least likely to overrule him.

Tea Party Republicans already openly oppose the speaker, with an unprecedented 12 voting against putting him in charge after the fiscal cliff deal. Boehner has already faced huge problems in getting important bills passed because of them, from the Violence Against Women Act to the Farm Bill. Moderates are not going to backstab him in a way that will cost him– and all of their chances of any productive legislating — everything.

The better bet is that this will last until our government hits the MUCH BIGGER, SCARIER Oct. 17 deadline of the debt ceiling, where we are unable to issue any more debt. Because we rely on debt to pay for as much as 30% of the federal budget, this means that the government will immediately have to stop sending out 30% of its checks once we can no longer buy debt to finance spending.

In reality, because the automated computers that handle government accounting make millions of transactions every day, there is no way to prioritize who gets the remaining 70% of spending, and a lot of people wouldn’t get paid. This includes people getting paid for buying U.S. debt in the past, and when they don’t get paid, future debt interest rates shoot up out of fear, which spreads to all interest rates, which basically causes an asteroid that wipes out all life on earth. More or less.

Because our lawmakers are scared of extinction-causing asteroids, they’re probably going to raise the debt ceiling. Speaker Boehner has conceded that yes, he will raise it, even if he needs Democratic votes. This burns serious bridges with conservatives in his party, so he will probably have to pair the measure with a continuing resolution, caving entirely to the Democrats all at once. As one Republican strategist put it, “If you’re going to take a bullet, you want to take just one.”

Republicans have already taken a huge beating in public opinion polls for this. It’s going to be a huge boom for Democrats in the midterms (although whether they can retake Congress like in 1998 remains to be seen). The more interesting question is what will happen to Boehner. Realistically, there is no one else in Republican leadership who is untarred by this fiasco, or would possibly want the job of speaker. Still, the entire story is a terrible drama of mindless gridlock that hasn’t even fully played out yet.


Links I’m reading (Note: All positive, or at least not relating to U.S. politics)

Domestic Politics Gender Stuff:

“This is why I think Rosin is wrong about the end of patriarchy. “Patriarchy” doesn’t just mean concrete systems that ensure only men have access to the upper echelons of power; it also encompasses our ingrained cultural understanding of what men should be and how they show dominance.”– Ann Friedman in New York Magazine

International Affairs:

“But now, though 1.6m people a year still die of it, that number is on a downward trajectory­, and AIDS rarely makes the headlines any more. How was this achieved? The answer has two parts: sound science and international co-operation.”–The Economist

Economics and Public Policy:

“Carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels in the United States peaked at more than 1.6 billion tons of carbon in 2007. Since then they have fallen 11 percent, dropping to over 1.4 billion tons in 2013, according to estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Emissions shrank rapidly during the recession, then bounced back slightly as the economy recovered. But shifting market conditions, pollution regulations, and changing behaviors are also behind the decline.”–Emily Adams in Treehugger

South Florida:

“Is Miami really the right kind of town for entrepreneurial groundbreakers? In an influential 2006 essay, Paul Graham of famed tech-firm incubator Y Combinator noted that ‘few startups happen in Miami, because although it’s full of rich people… it’s not the kind of place nerds like.’ That was seven years ago. There are nerds here now, often drawn by the quality of life and a growing like-minded community.”– Marc Goodman in Ocean Drive

On Campus:

“The University of Miami football team is walking around with a bit more swagger and pride these days, and not just because the 14th-ranked Hurricanes are 4-0 heading into Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech. The coaches and players have the look of new homeowners, proud of their swank, new $14.7 million digs, eager to show it off to recruits and visitors.”- Michelle Kaufman in The Miami Herald