US Shutdown

The partial and completely avoidable shutdown of the United States (US) government showed no signs of ending quickly, as lawmakers stiffened their positions and sought to shift blame to the other side. The ongoing rift in the US Congress over budget for the year 2013-14 resulted in yet another shutdown on October 1, 2013 after seventeen years as the US fiscal year starts on every 1st October. Government shutdowns are not anything new as this is the 18th shutdown since 1976. The last and longest shutdown occurred from December 1995 into January 1996 under the Bill Clinton administration and spanned 21 days.

There is a two party system in the US and at the moment the US Congress, consisting of two organs namely Senate and the House of Representatives, is victim of clear divide. The US Congress is responsible for budget-making to run the wheels of government and no law can be made without the approval of both the houses. At present, President Obama’s party, Democrat, has the majority in Senate while the Republicans have the majority in House of Representatives. This year, rift between both houses could not be resolved over health care (“Obama Care”) bill and the entire government crumbled to shutdown. Obama Care law, if approved, would provide health facilities to millions of Americans who cannot afford health insurance from their pockets. The republicans don’t seem to be in favour of this law while democrats are bent upon having this made the part of coming budget. The US shutdown does not mean closure of all departments as almost all activities of the essential organs of the US government including national security, defence, department of homeland security (declaring its 86 percentage of workforce essential) and emergency continue after shutdown. Police, military and the US missions/embassies abroad would not be affected and would be getting their pays. But the performance of the embassies abroad might be affected as there might be delays in Visas processing etc. Again it is feared that though US Army would go un-affected by the current shutdown, but it might significantly harm day-to-day operations coupled with undermining intelligence agencies’ ability to monitor threats.

In the US, there are about 2.2 million of federal employees whereas 0.8 million workforce has been affected by the shutdown after being considered non-essential. These non-essential employees may be sent on leave till the shutdown ends as these cannot perform their duties and even check their official emails and by doing so willingly it might harm their careers. Previously; there was no such bar on those non-essentials as before the 1980s, if Congress could not pass a budget, federal employees continued operating as usual, even while waiting for a spending bill to pass. Once it did, that bill would retroactively fund the spending gap. But in 1980, Jimmy Carter’s last year as President, then-attorney general Benjamin Civiletti issued a legal opinion saying government work cannot continue until Congress agrees to fund it. Civiletti later clarified the law to mean only “essential” government services could continue without a spending bill.

The shutdown season is not good for the foreign tourists in the US as most of the zoos, museums, national parks and national monuments would remain closed due to those non-essential people would not be on duty. Also, the existing shutdown may affect the US economy as it is obvious if people don’t get paid, there would be sharp decline in the buying power coupled with the inability of the people to pay their bills including credit cards. The real problem with the US economy is the duration of current shutdown as this would actually determine the actual effects if any. If the current shutdown continues for longer time, there is every possibility that some tremors might be felt in international economy too.

President Obama on October 1, 2013 issued a letter to federal employees, thanking them for their public service rendered and promising to work with Congress to end the shutdown as soon as possible. Though Obama, in his letter, appreciated the federal employees for their services to motherland, yet it seemed like an excuse as being the President he could not pay them and silently it was nothing but a big sorry to them. He went further by saying, rather confessing his failure, that “you have endured three years of a Federal pay freeze, harmful sequester cuts, and now a shutdown of our Government.” The existing shutdown might not be severe but it has psychological dimension as President Obama shortened his Asia trip due to it. According to White House it was “logistically…not possible” to go ahead with the trips to Malaysia and the Philippines at the end of his tour. The US President was scheduled to begin his four-nation Asian trip on Saturday, heading to Bali for an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit.

This is not the first time Obama faced such economic tragedy as during his last and the current tenure, he was blamed for a weak economy in the US. But the supporters of Obama come up with an argument that he was handed a plate, full of horrible mismanagement by the former President George W. Bush. It is half-truth to blame only Bush, it is suggested that the very facts be investigated first. The Bush administration was sounding the alarm bells for impending fiscal crises in years to come. Therefore, placing the entire blame on Republicans seems convenient, just not factual. No matter what successes President Obama might have but he would be remembered for the weak economy in the history of the US by many.

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About the Author

Khalid Hussain Chandio has been working as Research Fellow at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). Previously, he had joined IPRI as Assistant Research Officer (ARO) in October 2007. He was then promoted as Research Officer (RO) in February 2013. Before joining IPRI, he worked in different capacities i.e., Media Analyst and Junior Analyst in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Pakistan, which gave him greater insight in the research and analysis fields. His areas of research include the United States of America (USA) [Its Foreign and Defence Policy, Pak-US Relations, Role of Lobbies in the USA, and Domestic Politics in the USA]. Khalid regularly contributes articles on current strategic issues in English Dailies of Pakistan. He holds M.Phil in International Relations (IR) from School of Politics and International Relations (SPIR), Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad, Pakistan and M.Sc in Defence and Strategic Studies (DSS) from the same university.

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