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Faculty Talk Government Shutdown

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to the press after a House Republican conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The government shutdown is in its third week.  Lawmakers on both sides of the fence continue to offer and reject proposals to reopen the government, as Thursday’s deadline on raising the nation’s debt ceiling looms. Lehigh University faculty members weigh in on the shutdown, offering messages for the GOP, historical perspective, reminders of personal rights and relevant research. 

‘Stop holding America hostage’
Brian Pinaire, associate professor, political science
There are several elements of the latest iteration of this self-inflicted wound that are especially disturbing, but one of them deserves extra-attention.  Most distressing for me, as a teacher of constitutional law, is the obnoxious refusal by a certain faction within the G.O.P. to simply accept what is the legitimate law of the land. 

It is clear – we get it, uber-red Republicans in permanently untouchable gerrymandered districts – you don't like "Obamacare." But it was a bill that passed both houses of Congress, was signed by the president, and became law.  And, just for good measure, it survived immediate judicial review with the Supreme Court, which found the Act within the powers of Congress to tax and spend under Article I of the Constitution.  That same article (I, sect. 7) spells out how laws are made in this country—and Obamacare traveled that path.

It is the law of the land, so stop holding America hostage with belligerent efforts to undermine it by insisting that it now be de-funded. What other already-existing laws would you now like to effectively undo, simply because you were unsuccessful in the political realm?  You lost, G.O.P.  You lost at the polls; you lost in the Congress; you lost at the Supreme Court.  Let it go and let us all move on with the already-complicated-enough process of being an American in 2013.

‘A rejection of constitutionally passed and upheld law”
Saladin Ambar, assistant professor, political science
This shut down is unique in American history, as its underlying premise is a rejection of constitutionally passed and upheld law. The principle of majority rule is at the heart of democratic politics and one of the pillars of "our way of life" so frequently invoked by those doing the shutting down.  Lincoln's wisdom from 175 years ago offered at the Young Men's Lyceum in Springfield, Ill., reminds us today of the costs of disregarding the law for personal will: "Having ever regarded government as their deadliest bane, they [the mob] make a jubilee of the suspension of its operations," he said, "and pray for nothing so much, as its total annihilation." This is really what the faction of 80 or so in the GOP want.  The means, is sadly, the end, in this case.

Call for a national referendum on Obamacare
George Nation, professor of finance and law
The way the process works, the way it was designed, is that if one side has the votes to stop you from getting what you want (President Obama) then you have to deal, compromise to get done what you want to get done. Another approach is to go over the representatives' heads to the voters directly, but this is very risky in the sense you may not get what you want, and there is a much greater risk that you will not get it in a timely manner. I believe what the Country needs is a workable process for a national referendum to get the Peoples’ view quickly and force the government to act. I would recommend to Obama a national referendum on Obama care. Of course, if you do it you must live with the results.

Eroding ‘livable lives’
Lloyd Steffen, professor of religion studies
Those elected to Congress take an oath to defend the Constitution and to "well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter."  A lot of Americans are feeling today that we are witnessing in our elected officials a dereliction of duty, maybe even a violation of oath. It is hard to see how the interests of the American people are being served "well and faithfully." 

We do not have to all agree on policies and politics, of course, but people of good will recognize an obligation to work together on issues that affect the conditions of what philosopher Judith Butler calls "livable lives." The shut-down is eroding the conditions for livable lives; it is actually hurting people, including the most vulnerable among us--the sick, the poor, the unemployed, the elderly and infirm. I don’t think it is always true that we always get the government we deserve—we deserve better, we deserve balances as well as checks, and to me the greatest obstacle to progress is the infusion of political absolutism into our democratic processes.

Research shows government should provide money to help economy
Michael Imerman, assistant professor of finance
This ultimately comes down to a question of government spending:  the Democrats want to continue funding publicly sponsored programs and pumping money into the economy, and the Republicans want to rein in spending specifically targeting Obamacare.

I (a registered Democrat) wrote a paper with the late mathematician Larry Shepp (a registered Republican), in which we developed a mathematical model to help understand some of the key political economic debates in recent years.  We asked: If the government was to pump money into the private sector to help them grow or improve infrastructure, would it increase the value of these companies enough to justify providing the cash infusion? That is would the economic value on average be higher or lower than if there was no government involvement, especially after accounting for the cost? 

Of course, I was biased to say yes, the government should help out and provide money to help prop up the economy, while Larry was expecting to see that he government intervening would make things worse, at least after taking the cost of the programs into account.  We worked through the math and did some numerical analysis with the conclusions indicating that the government funding does increase the value of the firms receiving these subsidies enough to justify doing so – with the caveat that the government has to make sure the companies adhere to a strict policy so as to not squander it (such as by paying themselves higher bonuses or dividends). 

The implication is that by pumping money into the private sector, the cash infusions or loans or subsidies (however you choose to view it), increases the economic value enough to justify the existence of such government involvement.

Story by Sally Gilotti and Rachel Sarakin

Posted on Tuesday, October 15, 2013

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