Panel Discusses Government Shutdown

The Department of Political Science, the Department of Economics and Finance, and the Byrd Center for Legislative Studies jointly held a panel discussion pertaining to the federal government shutdown, enabling students and community members to ask questions and receive commentary from the university’s professors.

On Oct. 11, Dr. Jacob Stump, assistant professor of political science, acted as moderator for the panel discussion, also known as a teach-in. The discussion took place in the Byrd Center for Legislative Studies’ auditorium, which was filled to capacity. The panel included Dr. Ray Smock, director of the Byrd Center for Legislative Studies; Dr. Stephanie Slocum-Schaffer, chair and associate professor of the Department of Political Science; Dr. Max Guirguis, associate professor of the Department of Political Science; Dr. Joe Robbins, assistant professor of the Department of Political Science; Dr. Aart Holtslag, assistant professor of the Department of Political Science; and Dr. Kathy Reid, chair and professor of the Department of Economics and Finance.

Each panel member provided brief comments about specific areas of the shutdown, including the economic impact of the shutdown, the congressional impasse which led to the shutdown, and the historical context of this and previous shutdowns.

Guirguis noted that since 1976 there have been 18 government shutdowns of varying length. The most famous took place from 1995–96 and lasted, cumulatively, 28 days. He further explained there were almost no political repercussions for the party who took the majority of the blame, the Republicans. They held onto both houses of Congress in the 1996 elections. He summed it up by saying the political effect will amount to “nothing.”

Smock pointed to the continuation of a “30-year or more long crusade” against government in the lives of Americans as a contributing factor to the shutdown. Further, he explained the rabid hatred for the incumbent president, possibly based on inherent and residual racism, has fueled opposition on the far, extreme right to anything involving the federal government.

Reid focused on the demonstrable economic impact of the shuttering of the government. While the number of furloughed employees had begun at 800,000, she pointed out that the number has now dropped to 400,000. In her opinion as an economist, she believed “the effect to the economy will be very minimal in the long term.” However, she did assert that the short-term effects in areas with a high concentration of government offices or workers may feel some negative impact.

Holtslag believed the impact to the global reputation of the United States to be quite real. He said, “The image of the U.S. is at stake here.” Additionally, he pointed out the problematic relationship between the inability of the American government to function as it is attempting to spread democracy in states like Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

The question and answer period continued for approximately 75 minutes. Members of the Shepherdstown community as well as a number of undergraduate and graduate students questioned the panel.

Robert Dugan, an undergraduate student preparing to transition into the masters of arts in teaching program, found the event to be “informative overall.”

“It gave me a touch of hope because the discussion didn’t devolve into a shouting match—there was impassioned speech but no name calling or fear mongering.”

Dugan also noted that none of the professors “appeared to be hurried to leave.” He further hopes similar panel discussions will take place in the future.

Larry Dowdy, director of media services, believed there has been a “change of culture” in the United States due to the direction of federal politics. He asserted the vitriolic nature of political discourse puts the entire country at risk.

Guirgus had to leave the discussion early to teach a class, but summed up the overall feeling of most of those who spoke by declaring the shutdown to be simply a “failure” of government.