04.07.11 5:42 PM ET
The Case for a Government Shutup
Another evening conference at the White House ended Thursday night without an agreement on the federal budget, with about 30 hours on the clock before the government begins shutting down. Obama said leaders are "further along today than we were yesterday," but again warned of the economic damage a shutdown would cause. The two sides clashed Thursday afternoon over anti-abortion and environmental riders insisted on by Republicans, who also passed a stopgap spending bill in the House that would fund the government for a week.
Andrew Roberts makes the case for sending them all home, which would likely produce a deal overnight. Plus, Matt Latimer on why there’s no way for House Speaker John Boehner to come out of the showdown looking good.
If we are indeed fated to have a government shutdown, then it should not just be the 800,000 federal employees who bear the brunt. We should also have a Shutoff, under which all legislators in Congress, as well as the president himself, have their pay, pension contributions, health insurance, travel expenses, accommodation perks, and all their myriad other benefits suspended for the period of the shutdown. If the rest of government is shut down, so should they be. If the president wants to use Air Force One during the Shutoff, he should be expected to pay for it himself, as he's not our responsibility as a government employee during a shutdown. The speed with which this draconian but eminently logical and fair provision will concentrate all politicians' minds onto coming up with a deal would, I suspect, be astonishing.
Patricia Murphy: The Tea Party’s Budget Freakout
• Daniel Stone: The Capitol Hill Shutdown Slumber Party
• Government Shutdown: Full coverageRunning concurrently with the Shutoff we should have a Shutup, whereby the media agrees amongst itself to keep all politicians—again, up to and including the president—off the airwaves until they've come up with a workable budget deal. The blind terror that grips all politicians when they are unable to see and hear themselves on TV and radio, and their certainty that nothing less than democracy itself is under threat when they are not in front of microphones, would also ensure a responsible deal was arrived at in double-quick time.
The speed with which this draconian but eminently logical and fair provision will concentrate all politicians' minds onto coming up with a deal would, I suspect, be astonishing.
Then there's the Shoutdown option, which should happen whenever either side of the negotiations comes out to tell the waiting media why the shutdown is really the other side's fault, not theirs, and that if only their opponents would be reasonable then normal service could be speedily resumed. Under the Shoutdown provision, all non-politicians would immediately put their fingers in their ears and shout “La, la, la, la, la!”
At the top of their voices, for as long as the politician continues to blame the opposition. To increase its effectiveness, this should be done with one's eyes tightly shut. It will vary from politician to politician when they give up speaking, of course—and one suspects that Harry Reid might persevere for the longest—but eventually they would all have to accept that their attempts at scapegoating have failed, and they would be forced back to non-posture politics. The Shoutdown also has the advantage of being slightly less childish that the politicians who are about to shut down the government of the world's greatest hegemon, with the world's largest economy, simply because they can't agree on how to cut the deficit, despite the midterm elections showing how much the American people want it to happen.
Employ the Shutoff, Shutup, and Shoutdown responses, and I guarantee that a deal would be arrived at in a matter of minutes, with minimum disruption to the rest of the Republic.
Historian Andrew Roberts' latest book, Masters and Commanders, was published in the UK in September. His previous books include Napoleon and Wellington, Hitler and Churchill, and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900. Roberts is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.