Over recent years, the US government has been at odds with itself, coming close to or even allowing the government to shut down as they bicker over the budget. Liberals and conservatives battle to get their way, playing a game of political chicken and holding the government itself hostage until one side cracks.
This year, in retaliation for Obama’s executive actions on immigration, Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, and the Republicans of the House tried to hold up the funding of Homeland Security bill. Their refusal to pass the bill would keep the budget incomplete, and Homeland Security would face some loses. With the shutdown looming, and the Democrats showing no signs of giving in, the Republicans cracked and passed the budget, avoiding what might have been the second shutdown in three years.
“The Republicans are pretty hot and bothered with the executive actions on immigration, so the strategy for them was to hold up the Homeland Security funding unless there was capitulation,” Frank Alcock, Associate Professor of Political Science, said. “The Democrats and the President basically said ‘bring it on’ since they knew where this was going, which was if they didn’t fund Homeland Security, risks would increase, and the Republicans would ultimately get the blame.”
“It is a continuation of the conservative wing of the Republican party trying to impose its will on the administration,” Alcock continued regarding the near shutdown. “Now the Republicans control both the Senate and the House, and their numbers are a bit bigger – which I think has emboldened some of the conservatives.”
“When they were in the minority, they were basically in the position to block anything they wanted, so since 2010, not a lot has been done or come out of Congress,” Alcock said. While proactive legislation – where the government changes something from the status quo – is optional for the government, spending and budget legislation are necessary for the government to run. If that spending and budget legislation isn’t passed, the government is forced to “shutdown”, closing national parks and other “nonessential” aspects of the government.
“Spending and budgets are necessary for the government to run, and the tactics that you have seen over the past couple years is kind of like a hostage-taking style of politics,” Alcock said. “What has happened is that – in doing that – it has put the Republican Party in a pretty difficult position, and their leadership has often had to cave in at the eleventh hour.”
With the 2016 elections coming up, leaving the presidency up for grabs as well as 34 seats in the Senate, the “hostage-taking” and lack of cooperation might have serious implications for the Republicans.
“There are 34 Senate seats opening up again, and a lot of those seats are Republican seats,” Alcock said in regards to the 2016 elections. “A lot of those Republicans are in blue [Democratic] states, so if they are perceived as unable to get something done, then it could be costly for them in the next election cycle.”
In the meantime, with President Obama able to veto bills passed through the Republican-controlled Congress, and the Republicans unwilling to let Obama pursue the policies and changes that he aimed to bring about – addressing global warming, for example – the government is at a standstill.
“I am not exactly hopeful for anything meaningful to come out of Congress for these last two years of the administration,” Alcock said. “If anything gets done I think it will be a small number of Republicans working with the minority Democrats to get something done – but we’ll see.”
While the government may not be making much headway in making policies, at least the shutdown was avoided, and the politicians can continue to argue stubbornly.