Seeking Solutions for the Government Shutdown

October 15, 2013

With much of the federal government closed down by the government shutdown, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are scrambling for solutions. How those solutions should be crafted remains in dispute, even amongst Harvard Kennedy School faculty members.
Max Bazerman, Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration and co-director of the Center for Public Leadership (CPL), tells the Huffington Post, "There's no simple solution: if we view this as simply 'Who's going to give in?’ we're not too far away from Israel-Palestine in terms of too many mutually-exclusive claims having already been made, leaving no room for an actual deal.”
“The shutdown is hurting Americans more than anyone else,” writes Nicholas Burns, The Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations, in The Boston Globe. “American businesses need the full, active support of government to compete for jobs against aggressive competitors like China. Millions of Americans traveling overseas rely on fully staffed American embassies if passports are lost or they encounter more serious trouble in an often violent world.”
Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor of Harvard University, argues in the Financial Timesthat, “The tragedy is compounded by the fact that most of the substance being debated in the current crisis is only tangentially relevant to the main challenges and opportunities facing the country. There is a chance future historians will see today’s crisis as the turning point when American democracy was shown to be dysfunctional – an example to be avoided rather than emulated.”
In a column for WBUR’s “Cognoscenti,” Linda Bilmes, Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, argues that the government shutdown may sour the next generation of would-be political leaders.
“The ongoing chaos is corrosive for democracy," she writes. "In the 'Federalist Papers,' Alexander Hamilton wrote that that good government required prestige and adequate compensation for the civil service, and a 'steady administration.' He hoped that these principles would produce a virtuous cycle, in which public respect combined with a good salary would incentivize qualified people to enter public service, regardless of background. Their success in the public eye would help to draw even more gifted candidates, who would enable an effective, steady administration of the laws that in turn would help to maintain a continual stream of talent.”
"With the Congress bogged down casting only symbolic votes, as government workers sit idle at home, and the White House scrambles to prevent the nation from defaulting on its debt, it is fair to say that we are some distance from the 'steady administration' that Hamilton envisioned," Bilmes concludes.
Writing for Politico, Thomas Patterson, the Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press, articulates a rosy solution to the shutdown which, he admits, might be overly optimistic considering the current political schisms on Capitol Hill.
"...since this is a whimsical moment, let’s at least imagine what the House of Representatives might do if freed of the shackles of its right-wing minority," Patterson writes. "It wouldn’t play a dangerous game with the upcoming debt ceiling. It would replace sequestration with a thoughtful balance of spending cuts, and perhaps even modest revenue increases. It would take steps to give our sluggish economy a needed boost. It would correct some of the acknowledged defects in the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act. If the Senate were to cooperate, the House would help fix our broken immigration system. It might even convince the American public that Congress is something other than a dysfunctional and broken branch of government."

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