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Saturday, June 10, 2023

A political stalemate in Congress over the federal budget may force the federal government to come to a halt if Democrats and Republicans fail to strike a deal.

If they can’t reach a compromise by the end of today, the federal government will partially cease operations.

With the political atmosphere on Capitol Hill growing more testy, Democrats and Republicans are playing a game of “chicken,” said Albert Matheny, associate dean for the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a political science professor.

“The sad thing is that it symbolizes the confrontational approach of a Congress willing to play games when we really need reasonable discussion of important fiscal issues, with suggestions for reasonable alternatives instead of grandstanding,” he said in an email interview.

The last time a partial government shutdown occurred was in 1995 when President Bill Clinton rejected two proposed budgets put forth by the Republican-controlled Congress. Some see the shutdown as the moment when Republicans, who were enjoying their greatest grip on the legislative branch  since the 1950s,  lost the political momentum they had been riding since the 1994 midterm elections.

Michael Bowen, a visiting lecturer in the history department at UF whose research focuses on American conservatism, pointed to then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s unwillingness to compromise as a key reason behind the GOP’s  sluggish showing in the last shutdown.

“He thought if he held to the principles of the Contract with America people would back him,” said Bowen in reference to the series of proposals brought forth by Republicans in the mid-1990s. “But that was not the case.”

That does not necessarily mean, Bowen said, Democrats will come out on top this time around. Unlike in 1995, when Clinton rejected two Republican budgets, Democrats  failed to pass a budget in 2010, which means they will be more open to culpability this time around, Bowen said. 

In addition, Republicans, he said, have a Speaker of the House, John Boehner, who is more humble and willing to compromise than Gingrich was during his tenure as Speaker.

In a interview last month, Congressman Cliff Stearns, who represents Florida’s 6th Congressional District, expressed similar sentiments, noting how Boehner is viewed in more favorable terms by the American public than Gingrich was.

Stearns also said if a shutdown does take place, Republicans would not suffer the political setbacks they did in the mid-1990s as America’s financial situation is now in a much graver state.

If the shutdown does happen, Matheny expects it to be short-lived.

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“Sooner or later, the temporizing will cease,” he said.

Who’s more to blame in this episode is up for interpretation.

Damien Filer, a political consultant and UF adjunct lecturer, said Republicans are using the budgetary process to “ram through a social agenda,” which includes hot-button topics such as climate change and abortion.

He believes Republicans should save the political stunting for issues much less vital than the federal budget.

“Republican leadership in the House is playing politics with people’s lives,” he said.

Ryan Garcia, the newly appointed chairman of UF College Republicans, said the group supports the GOP’s unflinching stance on the issue.

In an email interview, he specifically praised Boehner, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Congressman Paul Ryan “for sticking to their guns and not caving in to more government spending,”

Stacy Eichner, president of UF College Democrats, said Tea Party members appear to be hoping for a shutdown, and Republicans are unwilling to compromise and focus on creating legislation addressing jobs and the economy.

She said representatives from both parties must work to prevent a shutdown, which would hurt the already struggling U.S. economy.

Regardless of who emerges victorious from the political deadlock, bitter partisanship, experts say, will continue to plague the American political system.

“I think both sides will continue to blame each other,” Bowen said.

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