Government Shutdown

What can we expect now that there is a partial shutdown of the federal government? Duke Today asked several Duke professors to weigh in -- in about 100 words:

Ted Kaufman

visiting professor
of the practice
at Duke Law School
and former U.S. senator

We are in uncharted waters. No one really knows what is going to happen. We have never had a challenge to shut down the government and default on our debt at the same time. When you read the floor debate especially from a large number of brand-new senators and representatives, it is clear that they do not appreciate the danger of the crisis they have caused. It creates the visual image of children playing with matches while being criticized by grownups in their own party like John McCain and Bob Corker. Let’s hope the cooler heads prevail.

Paula McClain

professor of political science and public policy, dean of the Graduate School

While Congress will continue to receive its pay during the shutdown, some of the most vulnerable among us will be affected. Most of the Head Start Programs nationally will continue to operate, but a small number whose grants expired on Oct. 1 will shut down. Participants in the WIC program, formally known as Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, might also see their programs disappear. On another front, the Department of Justice, which sued North Carolina yesterday over their voter ID laws, will suspend the filing of other civil suits.

David Rohde

Ernestine Friedl professor
of political science

A popular view of Washington politicians is that they are only interested in staying in office and they do not have any personal commitments to the policies they advocate. The shutdown demonstrates that the situation is not that simple. What makes it so difficult to reach compromise in Washington is that a significant number of actors on both sides, but particularly among Tea Party Republicans, passionately believe that their positions are what is best for the country and their constituents. Further, they think that even if the public does not agree with them at the moment, voters will become convinced and eventually side with them. That is a recipe for continued gridlock and serial crises.

Campbell Harvey

J. Paul Sticht professor
in international business
at the Fuqua School
of Business

This is not about the Affordable Care Act. This is not about the debt ceiling. This is all about risk. Do we have a government that can responsibly deal with their obligations both in the short-term and long-term? Right now, the answer seems to be no. And this equals risk. In a period of fledgling economic growth, unusually slow progress given that the recession started almost six years ago, the last thing that we need is increased uncertainty. Risk means that firms are hesitant to hire new employees. Risk means that companies decline spending on much-needed capital investment. In a time when the Federal Reserve feels obligated to inject over $1 trillion a year into the economy to support lower unemployment, the government’s dysfunctionality takes us many steps back on the road to normal.

Elizabeth Ananat

assistant professor
of public policy
and economics

Depending on how long it lasts, a government shutdown could deliver a harsh blow to the nation’s fragile economy. For starters, 800,000 federal employees will stop receiving paychecks, and may or may not get back pay later. Many more private firms with government contracts will not be paid. Small businesses, which account for about half of U.S. job growth, will not be able to receive loans from the Small Business Administration. Finally, while Social Security and SNAP (Food Stamps) payments will continue, new enrollees may not be able to apply for benefits. By most estimates, those two programs keep millions of Americans out of poverty. Because of these and other effects, if it lasts a month (the 1995 shutdown lasted 21 days), it is estimated the shutdown will take $55 billion out of the economy. What we risk is essentially a stimulus in reverse that might throw the economy back into recession.

Peter Feaver

of political science
and public policy

The government shutdown caps a bad several months for America’s global position. The political dysfunction that produces paralysis at home also harms U.S. interests abroad. The conventional wisdom looks at the crisis through partisan lenses and concludes that Democrats can ‘win’ in the sense of being less damaged than Republicans. Yet the ultimate loser could be the United States as a whole. Politicians tired of war trumpet optimistic headlines reporting diplomatic overtures to Syria and Iran. But if we are too weak to resolve our political disputes at home, we may be too weak to defend our interests abroad.

Barak Richman

Edgar P. and Elizabeth C. Bartlett professor
of law and professor
of business administration

Much of the political world has been waiting for Oct. 1, to see whether the implementation of Obamacare will bring immediate benefits to a restless public or will sputter and signal the program’s failure. But the health policy world — though certainly curious about Oct. 1 — knows that Obamacare is neither a cure-all for, nor a hindrance to, America’s health care crisis. It’s best characterized as a useful but only interim step to addressing the nation’s unsustainable trajectory of health care costs. The health policy world is much more curious about what will happen in the months and years following Oct. 1. A large segment of the population will soon learn how costly health care is. This is the make-or-break moment for the health care industry, and observers are eager to see if industry leaders will seize the moment.


associate professor
of public policy
and sociology

The potential fate of the federal WIC program — the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children — is particularly troubling. WIC provides money that pregnant women and women with small children can use to purchase healthy food. Federal funds for WIC are in immediate jeopardy unless Congress takes action. And while some states may find a way to keep the program afloat for a short time, other states may find it very difficult to do so. WIC proved to be an important part of the social safety net during the Great Recession. Its funding is critical because it reaches a very vulnerable population: the very young. Three quarters of the recipients of WIC are children under the age of 5. That’s not a group that should be caught in the crosshairs of a political fight.

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