The Government Shutdown with Elaine Kamarck from Reddit’s AskMeAnything

Editor’s Note: On October 3rd, Elaine Kamarck, answered questions on the government shutdown and gridlock with the Reddit AMA audience. Below are excerpts from that online conversation. You can find

the full Reddit chat here


Q: A lot of the conversation on reddit focused on the difference between this shutdown and 1996, and wondered how long this one will last, and how non-government employees will be affected:

Elaine: “The big difference is that: in the last government shutdown, congress had already enacted several appropriations bills. This meant that the entire government did not shut down, only pieces of it. It’s hard to say how long this will last, but it will certainly be over by October 17th — the day that the government has to extend the debt ceiling.

“As bad as the shutdown is, defaulting on the debt could very well throw the US and the global economy back into recession, which is a far more serious issue. If the shutdown for some reason should go on for too long, people in the private sector will be able to feel the effects because the private sector relies, at least in part, on government contracts. Those businesses, and their subcontractors, will feel this as soon as the checks stop coming.

“I recently wrote a short piece on this that may interest you, on our new blog we launched last week, FixGov. It’s about the President and who “wins” in a shutdown.

“The interesting question is how it will end. There are two possibilities — Boehner, having done what the tea party wanted him to do so far, will tell them their time is up and bring the clean continuing resolution (CR) to the floor of the congress. At that point, the 200 democrats will vote for this, and they only need 18 republicans to pass a clean CR.

“The other way this could happen is that a democrat proposes a clean CR and collects enough democratic and republican signatures on a discharge petition to get it out of the rules committee without a vote.Given that speaker Boehner said, just hours ago, that he would not let the nation default, we could be nearing the end of this soon.”

Q: To me, it seems that much of the shutdown problem has come from the gerrymandering that’s allowing seats to be kept safe. Do you think that we have a chance in the next decade of somehow automating the redistricting process a la Iowa?”

Elaine: “You are exactly right. The tea party members come from districts that are so conservative, that by refusing to compromise they are not endangering their electoral future. If there was more diversity of opinion in more congressional districts, we would have a Congress more able to compromise for the good of the country.

“For a longer explanation of this, look to a paper by colleague Bill Galston and myself — we wrote a paper called “The Still-Vital Center” about how electoral politics could possibly move back to the center:

Q: “Would you agree with the statement that the vast majority of Americans are too ignorant of their political system and the necessities and conditions it’s forced to operate under to make informed decisions?”

Elaine:  “I think the American people are a lot smarter than you give them credit for. They are already expressing their dissatisfaction with the shutdown, which is putting pressure on the Republicans to come to their senses.

“There was one question Elaine didn’t get a chance to answer yesterday, but we want to include it here because it’s very timely.”

Q: “Could you share your expertise about the David Vitter amendment? – Do you have any insight about what it’s like to be a staffer affected by this amendment ? Do you think GOPers who passed the amendment made a mistake and why?”

Elaine: “John Hudak recently looked at the actual impact of the Vitter amendment, and its impact on Congressional staff, here:

Several participants asked about the impact of the media and technology on shutdowns today vs. 1996:

Elaine: “Less than or only around 25% of Americans were on the web at the time of the last shutdown, and it was not nearly as robust as then. When I went to white house in 1993, we did not have internet in our offices! Isn’t that amazing? (this led my younger staff here to ask me, “what did you do all day!?) Excuse this diversion, but before there was the internet – we actually wrote memos, printed them out, and delivered them to peoples offices by hand. And if there was something to be researched, we went to the library and opened those obsolete things called books!

And of course, we talked about the West Wing:

Elaine: “So, the TV show the West Wing? That gives you a pretty good feel for what it’s like. However, people in the west wing were nicer in the white house than people actually are in the White House.

“At first it’s really really cool. After a while it’s like working in a very beautiful prison. Your husband can’t come get the car keys without getting a background check and going through several friskings.”