Government shutdowns

So the US government might actually shut down (and not for the first time). A question for all you comparative government types out there: are there other governments where this sort of thing has happened–or even can happen?

I think most democracies have constitutional provisions that make the equivalent of US “continuing resolutions” more or less automatic, creating a “reversion point” of the current spending levels, rather than zero, in the event of no agreement on a funding plan. Some others make the executive proposal the reversion. Obviously these provisions matter a great deal to the bargaining positions of the various actors.

There are, of course, countries that go government-less for long periods of time. Like Belgium. But of course, in these cases of parliamentary systems with “no government” there actually is no real shut down, or lack, of government. There simply is not one that has been formed since the most recent election (or cabinet resignation). There is a caretaker, and current programs remain as authorized.

So just how unusual is the US here? Is this another case of (dubious) American exceptionalism?


(I originally typed the subject of this post with an “i” in place of the “u.” Come to think of it, that might have been appropriate!)

8 thoughts on “Government shutdowns

  1. Minority governments in parliamentary systems that have trouble passing a budget, can propose a confidence motion. In most cases this will be sufficient to get some parts of the opposition to vote for the budget.

  2. In Portugal, if the budget is rejected, we enter in “regime de duodécimos” – every month government services recive 1/12 of their budget of the former year.

  3. Well, it seems to me the key ingredients are presidentialism, a 2-party system, and divided government. The 2-party part makes the game of Chicken more likely (no possibility of shifting coalitions), although I suppose two strong coalitions might work as “well.”

    Japan almost had something close before the earthquake/tsunami focused minds. Technically, the Lower House is sovereign on the budget, but the Upper House apparently is able to veto “enabling legislation” that isn’t the budget per se, but is necessary to implement it. I need to look into this more carefully. Japan, of course, is parliamentary, but a confidence motion is not relevant to a strong, fixed-term Upper House.

  4. I wonder if it is not a result of the long term fiscal stress caused by operating on the theory that all tax expenditures are good no matter what. The Bush tax cuts, a classic example of a tax expenditure, spent 150 billion. The current budget saves 38 billion.

    I suspect it is a case of American exceptionalism driven by what Bush I called voodoo economics before he adopted the same policy.

    Most countries, whether parliamentary or presidential, do have constitutional or statutory provisions to ensure the continuity of government services. But then most countries do not have sections of the electorate with a fantasy that government services are bad in themselves.

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