As we consider yet another possible government shutdown, it’s important that we review the ground rules for how to approach the central issue that arises each time we face this calamity—namely, who is to blame for it.
If Republicans control both the White House and Congress, then the shutdown is their fault. That’s because Republicans were unwilling to negotiate with a Democratic minority that offered sensible, mature, and apolitical ideas for improving the spending bill.
The GOP must be reminded that in our system, holding a bare majority is not enough. The 60-vote supermajority threshold required to pass legislation in the Senate forces both sides to find common ground. The GOP should have worked harder to win votes from moderate Democratic senators to clear this procedural hurdle, which protects the vital interests of the congressional minority.
If Democrats control both the White House and Congress, then a shutdown must be the result of a small number of Republican senators filibustering the spending bill in reckless disregard for the urgency of funding the government. These senators are subverting the will of the duly elected majority, playing politics with our national security, and harming millions of hard-working civil servants and their families. The situation is a textbook illustration of how the anachronistic Senate rules allow a small cadre in the minority to wield immense power, and why we should abolish the filibuster.
If Republicans control the White House and Senate, but Democrats control the House of Representatives, then the shutdown was caused by an out-of-touch Republican president and tone-deaf Senate Republican majority that has callously rejected the national popular will, as it is expressed through the legislative priorities of the “People’s House,” just as the Founders intended.
If Democrats control the White House and Senate, but the Republicans control the House of Representatives, then fault for the shutdown must be laid at the feet of a House Republican caucus that has been hijacked by the extreme fringe of a once-sensible party. The situation presents a sad but enduring testament to the destructive power of Republican gerrymandering efforts that have artificially sustained the party’s House majority.
If Republicans control the White House and the House of Representatives, but Democrats control the Senate, then the shutdown reflects a GOP unwilling to come to terms with the need to share power with the opposition party in the world’s most deliberative body, the incomparable U.S. Senate.
If Democrats control the White House and the House of Representatives, but the Republicans control the Senate, then no one is at fault, as is clear from the last time this scenario occurred, in 1889, when Democratic President Grover Cleveland and Republican Sen. Algernon S. Paddock from Nebraska had a falling-out over a game of pinochle.
If Republicans control the White House, but the Democrats control all of Congress, then the shutdown represents a dangerous game of brinksmanship by a Republican president who should have signed whatever the Democratic Congress passed to avoid the disaster of a shutdown.
If Democrats control the White House but the Republicans control all of Congress, then the cause of the shutdown, obviously, is the party in control of Congress. Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress holds the federal purse-strings and is charged with appropriating money to fund the government. Failure to do so rests with the Republican-controlled Congress.
If you have no idea who controls what and, like most Americans, you can’t name the three branches of government, then consult your favorite late-night television talk-show host for guidance.
These rules have been curated and developed carefully over the course of many decades by countless journalists, government employees, celebrities, and academic sociologists, acting in a strictly nonpartisan fashion. When the shutdown comes this Friday, or anytime thereafter, please consult these rules to determine exactly who you should blame.