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Scholar: Both Parties Will Get Blamed for Shutdown


Michele Swers Associate Professor of Government Michele Swers says a short-term government shutdown won't have a long-term effect, but if a shutdown lasts for an extended period, it could impact the economy.

April 8, 2011 – Michele Swers is an associate professor of government at Georgetown whose research and teaching interests include Congress, congressional elections, and women and politics. In this Q&A, she discusses the reasons behind the potential government shutdown, its possible long- or short-term implications, and how the shutdown is likely to affect Washington, D.C.

Why would the government shut down? 

The government would shut down because in the last Congressional session, Congress did not pass the spending bills necessary to fund the government through the end of this fiscal year, which ends at the end of September. Thus far, the government has been funded by temporary continuing resolutions (CR) while the President and Congress negotiate. The latest CR runs out at midnight tonight. 

Who will get most of the blame? 

Congressional Republicans and Democrats will likely share the blame and they will each get more blame than the President. Having a shutdown will weaken Americans’ levels of trust in government and their belief that Congress can solve the even more difficult problem of how to deal with the long-term deficit and debt and the thorny problem of entitlement reform.

What are the implications of this potential shutdown?  What services should people expect to be shut down in DC and nationwide?

The impact of the shutdown depends on how long it lasts. If the shutdown lasts as some expect only through the weekend the impact won't be that long lasting. However, if the shutdown lasts for weeks then it could have a negative impact on our fragile economic recovery. Most immediately, all national parks [and museums] will be shut down starting this weekend so families who want to spend spring break at the Smithsonian in D.C. or Yellowstone National Park will find those services closed to them. For federal workers, those deemed non-essential will not get paid and cannot report to work. The military will be paid through this Friday but they will not be paid after that. Congress will likely restore workers and troop pay, but for the length of the shutdown those relying on timely receipt of their paychecks will be hurting. Many government services will continue to function as normal. For example, Social Security checks are automated so people will still receive them, TSA (the Transportation Security Agency) is considered essential so those flying on airlines will continue to receive those protections. Other government functions will be stopped or delayed. For example, NIH will not enroll new people in clinical trials [and] those writing environmental regulations will not be at work.

How would this affect the D.C. government? 

Washington, D.C. would be the first to feel the effects because there are so many federal workers and government contractors in this area. There will also be an immediate impact on the local economy if there is a shutdown even only for the weekend because local shops and restaurants lose the business of people visiting the museums.

How would this be similar to and different from the government shutdown of 1995? 

The current potential shutdown is similar in that it is a fight over money and over policy riders. It is different in that the government has spent more time delineating who is an essential and who is a non-essential employee and the politics of the shutdown are not as clear in terms of who will benefit and who will get the blame.

What are the political implications of a shutdown in terms of Obama's chance for re-election, the Republican party and the tea party?

The shutdown could lead to questions about his leadership, but Congress will get much more of the blame. If the shutdown lasts long enough to impact the economy and, by extension, the unemployment rate, that could have negative consequences for his reelection. For Republicans, this will likely hurt their standing with the public. Public opinion about the tea party has already been going down, and this will likely make them look more extreme, particularly if the media replays tea party rallies including the chant of "cut it or shut it!"

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