The Government Shutdown: Democratic Tool or Bipartisan Game?

November 15th, 3:30-5pm

This week’s debate will focus on the government shutdown that lasted from October 1st-16th and the implications it has had on our bipartisan system as a whole.  There will not be two sides in this debate, but a panel of both students and professors sharing their different views.


Every year the United States government funds a wide range of institutions and programs.  Annually Congress must agree on appropriations bills, and on March 28, 2013 Congress passed a continuing resolution to keep the government funded as conflicts arose regarding passing the last set.  This resolution ended on September 30th, and no further continuing resolution or the appropriations bills were passed. Because of the shutdown, which began October 1st and lasted through 16th, all non-essential government workers had to leave work while essential workers stay with possible pay delays.  As a result, many government-funded programs came to a halt.  About 400 National Parks and museums were closed, the Justice Department suspended many civil cases, Social Security lost too many employees to schedule hearings for disability cases, and the Women, Infants and Children program no longer received funding, among other results.  Along with the blow to our national institutions and safety nets, the possibility of a debt default could have affected the international community.  If markets on Wall Street were frozen, there could have been eventual widespread international bank collapse. Default would have been unprecedented. Overall, the economy lost approximately $24 billion because of this event, and the effects are still being felt.

Many are looking to solely blame the right or left for the shutdown.  Polls reflect that most Americans blame Republicans, but a lower proportion as compared to the 1996 shutdown.  The shutdown highlights the strong divide within Congress, the government as a whole, and the American people. With the contentious issue of Obamacare on the table, the question is whether or not a shutdown is a legitimate political tool for government officials to exercise in order to influence policy. Does the historical use of a shutdown demonstrate the important checks and balances within our democratic system? Or, does it reflect a Congress that misrepresents its constituents and possesses too much power?


Professor Andrew Busch

Andrew E. Busch is Crown Professor of Government and George R. Roberts Fellow at Claremont McKenna College, where he teaches courses on American government and politics and serves as Director of the Rose Institute of State and Local Government.  Busch has authored or co-authored a dozen books on American politics, including most recently  Truman’s Triumphs: The 1948 Election and the Making of Postwar America (2012) and  After Hope and Change: The 2012 Elections and American Politics (2013), along with more than thirty articles and chapters.  He received his B.A. from the University of Colorado and M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia.

Position: While a case could be made for blaming one side or the other for the recent government shutdown, it was fundamentally the result of principled but conflicting views on public policy strongly held by the parties, in combination with our system featuring multiple power sources and veto points. Indeed, the power of the purse has been held by the legislative authority in one fashion or another since the Magna Carta. You can blame Ted Cruz for pushing the defunding of Obamacare; you can blame the Democrats more for insisting on Obamacare to begin with and then refusing to negotiate. However, if you really want someone to blame–if “blame” is the right word when discussing an immenently forgettable episode–start with James Madison.

Professor Eric Helend

Eric Helland is the William F. Podlich Professor of economics at Claremont McKenna College and an Economist at RAND’s Institute for Civil Justice. He is the author of over 50 books and articles on topics in law and economics ranging from bounty hunters to judicial elections. His current research focuses on pharmaceutical and patent litigation, securities litigation, auto safety and medical malpractice. He has recently completed a study of the impact of judicial pay on judicial retention, published in the Stanford Law Review, and another study on Medicare Secondary Payer Act, which was the subject of Congressional testimony in 2011.  In 2002-2003 he was a visiting fellow at the Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy and the State at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. In 2003-04 he served as a Senior Economist on the Council of Economic Advisers. In 2008 he was a visiting professor of law at the University of California Los Angeles and in 20011-12 a visiting scholar at theSchaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at USC. He is a co-editor of theInternational Review of Law and Economics. In 2012 he became Senior Advisor, Law and Economics at Praedicat Inc. He holds a PhD from Washington University in St. Louis.

Professor Lily Geismer

Lily Geismer is an assistant professor of United States History at Claremont McKenna College. Her teaching and research focuses on the intersections of  political realignment, public policy, grassroots social movements and metropolitan history since World War II. She is completing her first book Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals in Massachusetts and the Transformation of the Democratic Party, which is under contract with Princeton University Press, and will be released in 2014.

Jack Houghteling ’14

Jack Houghteling is a Senior History & Government dual major from Hastings on Hudson, New York. He plans to pursue a career in writing or public policy after graduation.

Michael Irvine ’16

Michael is a Philosophy, Politics, & Economics major from Falls Church, Virginia. He spends his time at CMC competing on our Model United Nations team, serving as ASCMC Senate President Pro-Tempore, and working at the Center for Civic Engagement. A politics and policy junkie, when Michael is not watching House of Cards, you can find him researching NSA communications gathering for the Salvatori Center or working on graphic and web design projects for the College Democrats of America, where he serves as Creative Design Coordinator.


Talia Segal ’15

Isabel Laterzo ’16

Relevant Links

The Washington Post – Government Shutdown 101

The Washington Post – Damage to GOP

The New Republic


The Wall Street Journal


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