What the Government Shutdown Means and How It Will End

Tufts political science professor Jeffrey Berry discusses the details and the consequences.

With the government shutdown now in its third day, Democrats and Republicans still at a stalemate, and a more dangerous confrontation over the debt ceiling looming large, we asked Jeffrey Berry, a professor of political science at Tufts University, to discuss the details and consequences of the government shutdown. Here’s what he had to say:

1.  The government shutdown is a reflection of the differences in core values of the Democrats and Republicans.

“Republicans believe in small government, low taxes, and minimal intervention in people’s lives. The Affordable Care Act violates all of those principles and the Republicans are dead set against it being implemented,” Berry said.

Beyond that, Berry believes that the Republicans’ attempt at shutting down the Affordable Care Act only reinforces support for the Democrats.

“Republicans’ decision to lampoon the Affordable Care Act as Obamacare was a catastrophic mistake—the worst possible error in understanding marketing imaginable,” said Berry. “They’ve equated government health care with Democratic sponsorship. Millions and millions of people will get access to health care, and we know from our experience here in Massachusetts that if you give people access to health care, they’ll use it. Those people who go on their government-sponsored insurance will be grateful to the Democrats and appreciate the Democrats even more—it’s analogous to Roosevelt and Social Security.”

2. Although it may have been preventable, the government shutdown was likely to happen for symbolic reasons.

“I think that the Tea Party Republicans wanted a shutdown,” said Berry. “They do understand that they’re not likely to get much in return, but for symbolic reasons, they felt it was important to stake the party’s future around fidelity to small government and, conversely, antagonism to Democratic party principles.”

And while some Republicans begrudgingly accepted implementation of the Affordable Care Act before the shutdown, the party now seems to show a united front.

“The Republican caucus is largely conservative—some more conservative than others. I think there was a sense that to go against the Tea Party Republicans’ preference would’ve divided the party in a very dangerous way.”

3. Although negotiations are taking place, they’re not serious and aren’t likely to be until the debt ceiling deadline.

“Lines of communication are open, but Democrats have said, ‘We’re not going to negotiate. In a sense, we have the upper hand. We have the leverage. There’s no reason for us to give in to your request to end the signature accomplishment of the Obama administration,'” said Berry. “I don’t think [President Obama] wants to appear aloof and uninvolved and he doesn’t want to leave himself open to charges that he won’t negotiate. But yesterday’s so-called negotiations were really a dog and pony show.”

Berry speculates that the Republicans may strategize to continue the government shutdown in order to get more leverage in the looming debt ceiling issue.

“The harder deadline for the Republicans in October 17, when the debt ceiling—a separate issue—expires and that has serious consequences for investors and for United States’ credit rating. So Republicans, with their base in the business community, are playing with a loaded gun.”

4. So far, the government shutdown hasn’t largely affected the economy.

“It’s affecting it in a minor way. Some people didn’t spend money at a national park because they couldn’t go there, so the restaurants and hotels adjacent to the park can’t recover that money because that family went back home,” said Berry. “On the other hand, that family went back home and had discretionary money they could spend elsewhere. For a short run, the shutdown shouldn’t have great economic consequences.”

The shutdown’s effect is more evidently seen in the pause of operations of government agencies such as the National Institute of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which run and approve clinical trials.

“Mostly, it’s going to involve delays rather than terminations,” said Berry.

5. There’s no sign of how long the government shutdown will last, but the longer it lasts, the more people it could affect.

“For some Americans, it will have no impact at all. For some Americans, if they need access to government—they need to call and talk to someone about a Medicare bill or a small business loan, for example—they are going to be inconvenienced,” said Berry. “The longer this goes on, the more people that is.”

But the shutdown will eventually end. As Berry sees it, there’s only one likely result.

“I don’t know how long this will last, but the Republicans will eventually be forced to capitulate,” he said.