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US government shutdown

Interview: Michael KniggeOctober 1, 2013

US political scientist James Davis explains why the Republicans are to blame for the budget impasse and what the government shutdown means for the US and the world.

Professor James Davis Photo: Andreas Gebert dpa/lby
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Deutsche Welle: How surprised were you that the US budget crisis really did explode and the US government shutdown did happen?

James Davis: I don't think I was very surprised. All of the signs these last few days pointed in the direction of a shutdown. It seems the far-right wing of the Republican Party - the Tea Party part of the Republican Party - is just not willing to compromise on this issue. They think that by means of a budget impasse and a shutdown of the government, they're somehow going to be able to reverse the health care reforms President Obama secured in his first administration - and the President is just not willing to compromise on that. So, the signs were all pointing in this direction.

Who is to blame - just the Republican Party? And who benefits politically from this shutdown?

In the end, I think it is the Republican Party that's to blame. The origins of the problem are in the polarization in the Republican Party: it's a party that has one wing that is so far to the right that even a conservative senator from Arizona, Senator McCain, calls them the "wacko birds" of the Republican Party. I think these new, younger conservative representatives in the House don't want to play by the traditional rules, have not learned the rules of the road in Washington, for some reason also are unwilling to support their leader.

I think Speaker Boehner would probably be more willing to compromise but he's afraid that if he did, if he compromised with the President, he'd lose the support of this wing of his party and thereby lose his position as leader in the House so I think the Republicans really have most of the blame on their shoulders.

Who benefits? It's a good question. I mean, the losers are the American people, that's clear. Whether this in the end benefits President Obama, I'm not sure. I think he thinks that by closing down the government he will make it clear to Americans what government does for them and that their taxes actually do provide certain services and I think that's the game he's playing.

What message does this shutdown send to the rest of the world?

It's a bad message. This is a country that wants to claim a leadership role in the world, a country that wants to proclaim the benefits of democracy and here we have a dysfunctional democracy that's not even able to pass a budget. That's not exactly the symbol we want to be sending around the world in these troubling times.

Do you see any consequences for US foreign and defense policy, particularly in embassies and US military basse across the globe?

I think the military is going to be saved from much of this cut, there seems to be a particular way around that. But the embassies and the consulates around the world will be shutting down, all but essential services. That will of course affect those tourists and businessmen who looking for a visa, who have paperwork that needs to be completed so they can do business in the United States or travel to the United States, and so it's not only the American citizen who's a loser, it's anyone trying to do business with the United States right now.

The key question: How is this going to develop?

I think we'll see a few more days of poker-playing but my guess is that eventually the Speaker of the House will realize he's got to break this impasse, and I think will eventually allow a compromise budget and you'll get enough liberal Republicans joining with the Democrats to pass something.