Explaining the crisis

18 October 2013

Written by: Liam Quinn

After last minute negotiations the US Senate reached a bipartisan deal that will reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.

But how did it all get here in the first place?

Dan Balz in The Washington Post argues the divide between Republicans and Democrats has grown in the last few years.

“What’s important about this is that there is now almost no intersection between the coalition that elected the president and the one that elected the majority in the House,” he says.

“Members of Congress have far less incentive to compromise with a president of another party if they know they are not dependent in any significant way on that president’s supporters.”

This means that Republican Congressman, especially those in safe districts, only need to worry about their primary voters and not the public in general. And, as Steve Kornacki pointed out, Republicans understand what this means.

“If they’re judged to be insufficiently conservative, if they’re judged to be disloyal to the cause, disloyal to the tribe,” says Kornacki, “if they give even an inch of space on their right then they can be the Tea Party’s next target.”

“And if the Tea Party targets you in a Republican primary they can beat you with literally anybody.”

However, the Tea Party’s presence extends much further than the Republican Party.


“The real problem is that many of those Republicans who agree with Boehner’s initial stance are terrified of a primary challenge and have gone to ground. Self-interest is the strongest emotion in politics,” says Dennis Altman, a professorial fellow in Human Security at La Trobe University.

What should be noted is Boehner didn’t even want the shutdown. He had negotiated a “clean” CR with Senate majority leader Harry Reid three months ago and even acknowledged it in an ABC News interview.

But following a failed attempt to oust him from the Speakership in January, Boehner was highly aware about how untenable his position would have been if he didn’t get some concessions from the Democrats.

So the Senate, where the Democrats hold the majority, passed a “clean” continuing resolution – one that didn’t impact the Affordable Care Act – just days before the shutdown. But the shutdown went ahead because Boehner would not allow the Senate CR to come to the floor.

The House Republicans, which hold the majority, went further and changed the rules in the House to ensure that only the House majority leader can bring a continuing resolution to the floor.

And so the Republicans forced a shutdown. Despite Republican votes emerging in the House to pass a “clean” CR since the shutdown, the Democrats could not bring the bill to the floor.

While a default could have been catastrophic for the recovering US economy, it seemed not everybody in Congress believed that to be true.

A growing number in the Republican caucus believed the President was using semantics to scare the American people or that a US default would bring stability to world markets, or that it would only affect Washington.

These people were wrong.

“If there is that degree of disruption, that lack of certainty, that lack of trust in the US signature it would mean massive disruption the world over. And we would be at risk of tipping yet again into recession,” says Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the IMF, in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press.

And so the fate of the world economy rested on Boehner’s shoulders.

He needed to convince hardliners that they were not in fact winning and that the American people blame them for this whole mess.

Instead, he stalled bipartisan negotiations in the Senate earlier this week by trying to a pass bill of his own in the House.


Eventually, the Senate finally took point on the issue and reached a bipartisan deal hours before the impending deadline. Boehner need only bring it to the floor for a vote.

The fallout of this shutdown is sure to be widespread and, probably, long lasting – both politically and economically. There are lessons to be learnt, but unfortunately not long to study them.

Rameez Abdeen is an upstart contributor and third-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter.

(Images: Twitter – @STForeignDesk, @NancyPelosi)