Blame the Constitution for the Federal Government Shutdown

Posted By Levi

October 14th, 2013 5:00pm

us constitution

Republicans in Congress have shut down the federal government because they want to get rid of the new Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare. But the blame should really be on the Constitution.

This kind of government shutdown could never occur  in countries such as Canada or Britain. This is because the system of government in these two countries is different from that of the United States.

Britain, Canada and many other democratic nations have what is called “parliamentary democracies.” The American system is called a “presidential system.”

Here is one major difference between the two.

In a parliamentary democracy, the chief executive, often called the Prime Minister, is the equivalent of the US president. Both the Prime Minister of Canada and the American president are the leaders of their respective countries.

However, in the United States, the president is elected in a nationwide vote; he has to campaign all over the country seeking votes. But in Canada or Britain, the Prime  Minister is elected by the parliament (their Congress.) Think of the US president being elected by Congress.

A second difference between the two systems of government is that the prime minister is usually the leader of the party that holds most of or the majority of seats in Parliament. So, not only is he the chief executive of the nation but he is also a member of parliament at the same time. In parliamentary democracies, there is no separation between the executive and legislative branches of government.

Again, think of Obama as being both president and a member of Congress. Of course, this is not possible in the United States because the Constitution separates both branches. Those who work for the president cannot be members of Congress at the same time and vice versa.

So what does all of this have to do with the government shutdown? Everything.

In Britain or Canada, the prime minister’ s party always controls Parliament. It has to be. Remember, he was elected by them.

Therefore, whenever the prime minister submits anything to Parliament for approval it always passes. Rarely would the majority votes against the wishes of the prime minister. For this reason, a government shutdown like the one we now have doesn’t happen in Britain, Canada or any other parliamentary democracy.

In the United States, we regularly have what is called divided government. This happens when the executive and legislative branches are divided between both parties as is now the case.

Both the presidency and the Senate are controlled by the Democrats while the other house of Congress – the House of Representatives – is controlled by the Republicans. And it is this divided government that is the cause of the shutdown.

For a bill to become law, the Constitution requires that it must be approved by both the House and Senate. The Republican-controlled House refuses to pass the law needed to provide money to run the government. And because of this, the government is shut down.

And here is another big problem with our system of government. When we find ourselves in the situation that we now have, the Constitution makes it difficult to get out of it; it offers no solution.

On a rare occasion in 2011, the Canadian Parliament refused to approve the budget submitted by Prime Minister Harper because of differences over how money should be spent. In such situation, rather than leading to a government shutdown, the Canadian constitution requires that the parliament be dissolved and a new election held immediately. In the subsequent election, prime minister Harper’s party won an even larger majority in parliament and the problem was resolved.

The Canadian prime minister does not have a fixed term of office. He or she remains prime minister as long as they have the support of parliament. But whenever the need arises, a snap election can be called.

This is not possible in the United States. The president is elected for four years and can only be removed through impeachment. Similarly, both Senators and House members served for specific number of years set by the Constitution.

Unlike his British or Canadian counterpart, President Obama does not have the authority to dissolve Congress and called a new election. Consequently, the current shutdown will continue until some compromise is reached between the various parties.

So yes, we can rightfully blame the Republicans for shutting down the government but the Constitution makes it possible for them to so. That’s the main culprit.

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