Is the US the only country that has government shutdowns?

I mean barring war, insurrection, or large scale natural diaster. Is the US the only country where the government (or large portions of it) shutdowns because it can’t pass a budget? I’ve never heard of this happening in any other developed country. I know in parliamentary democracies failure to pass a budget leads to a snap electon.

The Belgian government has been shut down for nearly four years, though not because of a budget. But the Belgian civil service still ticks on - I’ve visited during that time and the country’s running fine without politicians involved.

I don’t really understand the implications of a US government shutdown - does it cripple the non-political arms of the state too?

Australia came close to a shut-down in November 1975, because the Senate was deferring consideration of an appropriation bill. The deadlock was ended by:
(1) the Governor General dismissing the Prime Minister;
(2) the Governor General appointing the Leader of the Opposition as a caretaker prime minister, on the understanding that an election would be called;
(3) the Senate passing the appropriation bill, with Labor senators unaware that the prime ministership had changed, and presumably thinking that Coalition senators had suddenly conceded their position.

(Yes, there was some deception going on – but the outgoing PM should have told the leaders of his party in the Senate what had just happened. If he had, they could have delayed the appropriation bill and severely embarrassed the GG.)

Generally such a deadlock can’t happen in a parliamentary system. It happened in Australia because the upper house (the Senate) has powers almost equal to those of the lower house.

Another factor relevant in most Westminster-based systems is that the executive has sole authority for introducing supply bills into the legislature, and that the failure to secure passage of a supply bill leads to the resignation of the ministry.

British colonial governors had repeated problems with supply in a number of colonies. This was particularly a flaw of the “old representative system” that existed in the American and Caribbean colonies. This model, in which the executive existed independently from the legislature, formed the historical basis for the system of government used today in the US at both the federal and state levels. Anyway, in those colonies that remained under British control, the problems continued in many cases, until one by one the British persuaded or forced the relevant colonial legislature to agree to changing to a more satisfactory system.

But even in the later self-governing colonies with “responsible” ministries, supply sometimes proved to be a problem, for the reason that Giles gives. From memory, Victoria had a couple of major clashes between the two houses in the late nineteenth century, resulting in government largely shutting down for a period of time. I think similar problems happened in one or two other of the Australian colonies (as they then were). What’s generally avoided the same from happening since then is that the various states have changed their constitutional arrangements so as to give the “lower” house supremacy in matters of supply (because it’s the membership of the lower house that determines who is appointed to run the government).

In those nineteenth-century Australian colonial cases, the shut-down involved such things as “temporarily” laying off personnel, mass redundancies, mothballing departments, and stopping payments (even those required by law). Unsurprisingly, this sort of thing didn’t go down terribly well with the Colonial Office, which usually meant that it was the (British-appointed) colonial governor who would get it in the neck (even though he wasn’t usually the one responsible for the mess in the first place).

The reason why a legislature’s two houses might have equal apparent authority was because of being modelled on the British parliament as it existed in the past. However, the UK itself only very rarely had problems, because it was the convention that the unelected House of Lords would defer to the elected House of Commons on matters of supply. In colonies where both houses were elected, though, the upper house could claim a sort of moral equivalence, which was exactly what caused the problems in the various Australian colonies.

The remaining nominal power of the House of Lords to block supply was removed by the Parliament Act 1911, so a government shutdown is now essentially impossible in the UK. Subsequent constitutions for Commonwealth countries have generally incorporated roughly equivalent provisions, regardless of the power of the upper house in non-money matters, so again in those countries a shutdown is essentially impossible.

Although no longer a Commonwealth country, Ireland’s constitution follows in the same tradition. Here’s what the Bunreacht na hÉireann has to say:

(Dáil Éireann = lower house of parliament)
(Seanad Éireann = upper house)
(Taoiseach = Prime Minister)

Yes. If it’s a shutdown due to the failure to pass a budget. If the money isn’t appropriated, it can’t be spent, which means that all non-essential government offices are closed, and all non-essential government employees are furloughed. Essential government employees still will work, but won’t be paid until a budget or spending resolution is passed.

Cannot speak as to other countries, but in Germany shutdowns due to the federal state, a state or a municipiality not passing its budget in time do not happen. IIRRC what happens when the budget is not passed before the financial year begins is that the government’s general running expenses can be spent pro-rated for time based on last year’s budget, new infrastructure projects are not begun except as already authorized, and projects that have been begun are continued as per the authorized building schedule.

What’s the legal basis for US government employees not being paid in a shutdown BTW? How does the legislature not passing a budget trump the obligations of the state to pay its employees, as per their employment contract?

It goes back to the role of the English Parliament in authorising taxation and passing on money raised from taxation to the English sovereign. (And I’m using the word “English” deliberately, because it antedates the union of the English and Scottish parliaments.) This role of parliament was, and still is, fundamental in English and British law, and he concept has been carried over into American law, even though now the sovereign (President or state governor) is now elected by the people and governs wih a mandate from the people.

The British solved the problem by making the sovereign’s powers ceremonial, and effectively putting the real power in the hands of the prime minister, who is supported by a majority in the lower house of parliament. The U.S. went in a different direction, with the elected sovereign exercising real power, and hence potentially in conflict with a majority in the congress or state legislature.

But no, the sovereign (president in the U.S.) can’t spend the people’s money unless the people, through the legislature, have authorised it. It’s really fundamental to British and American law.

Which can, of course, lead to all sorts of angst for those of us who work for the Federal government. I’m not sure what the legal basis is for certain people having to work but not getting paid on schedule (such as the military), but I know that at least in the military, it is justified internally as “Suck it up, you signed up for this, now do your job.”:smiley:

Worth noting, the folks who would be working without pay, at least in the US, would still get paid for it, just not right away. They just get a bigger paycheck later.

Though from what people are saying on Facebook, we’re not gonna have to demonstrate that this year. I don’t think this issue has come up since the early 90’s though, so it’s not like it’s a regular occurrence for us.

I thought that, in the US, in theory, the Sovereign was the People, that is, all citizens. I believe it’s called “popular sovereignty”. That’s why criminal prosecutions in some jurisdictions are named “The People v <defendant>”, while in Commonwealth realms, it’s “The Queen v <defendant>”

Not sure what you mean by state, as we’re discussing the federal government.

Employment contracts are quite rare in the US. If the employees are not doing work, there is no obligation for the employer to pay them.

Yes, that’s another side. The President is not really the sovereign, but he does replace the monarch in the British system. King George > George Washington. The differences are that the monarch is elected, not hereditary, and there are checks and balances in a written constitution. However, the men who wrote the constitution thought that the head of state had to be the head of the government, because Great Britain and the American colonies had not developed a system where the head of government was the majority leader in the legislature.

It’s an interesting contrast. In parliamentary systems, the government can collapse, which (grossly generalized) means that the policy level quits but the civil service continues, while in the American system, the government can shut down, which means the civil service closes while the policy people continue.

He means the federal government. The United States is a state (i.e., a country).

I presume he is referring to state as in nation-state, where the United Kingdom is a State, France is a State, and the United States is a State (made up of smaller units variously calling themselves states, commonwealths, or republics, but generally referred to for our own purposes as states)

And during a furlough some employees are still required to work but are not paid for it. Since the executive has no appropriated money it is not legally possible for them to cut checks for most employees. This isn’t a massive problem since some employees just get sent home, but some employees such as air traffic controllers and law enforcement must continue working and will not be paid until the shutdown is over.

That is how it happened during the last shutdown (obviously we have averted a shutdown at the moment.)

When it comes to the Westminster versus the American system you have to keep in mind the foundations upon which they were laid. The Westminster system essentially evolved out of a power struggle between the monarch, the Lords, and the commons. By the time English monarchs had mostly had their balls clipped, things were fairly civil, but in the past you had some outright animosity between the entities (and in fact you had the monarch going to war with Parliament and losing in the 17th century.) I’ve always viewed the Westminster government as the “result” of one part of government “winning.” Pretty much all power is in the hands of Parliament, specifically in the House of Commons and even more specifically in the hands of the Prime Minister.

Some Brits may disagree with me, but in reality I view the Prime Minister as an elected dictator. He essentially wields immense power within the UK, far more than the President wields in America (I do understand some powers have been separated out eg the Law Lords and now the Supreme Court.) The flip side is, his seat isn’t secure, and the big check on his power is the rest of the commons. A Prime Minister can fall in an instant, whereas a President is fairly secure once elected (only once have we driven one from office, sans assassinations.)

So the Westminster system is the result of a historical power struggle in which one part of government “won.” While some powers are not directly held by the Prime Minister, all powers that would affect a budget or that could lead to a government shutdown are, and if a big crisis broke out between PM and the rest of the Commons the PM would fall and a new one would replace him/her. This makes a shutdown essentially impossible.

The American system (and if you don’t believe me read the Federalist Papers where the guys who actually helped draft the Constitution explain in plain English their motivations) is designed to prevent any part of government from becoming too powerful. In essence, divided government with the intent of making government too weak to trample on individual liberty. When it comes to matters budgetary there are essentially three major sources of potential grid lock and government shutdown.

Firstly, all spending bills must originate in the House of Representatives. However, just like all legislation, the same version of the legislation must be passed by both Houses. So the first type of problem you could have is within the House. If the House cannot agree on a budget, then the Senate has nothing to approve or amend/change, and the President has nothing to sign off on.

Secondly, say the House agrees to a budget and sends it to the Senate. The Senate rejects it and demands changes be made before they accept it. If the House will not agree to those changes, and compromise cannot be reached, government can shut down due to failure to pass a budget. Since Congress can’t agree on anything, the President has nothing to sign, no budget can go into effect.

Thirdly, the President has the power to veto legislation. If the President uses his veto and the Congress will not sign off on a budget the President agrees with, then government shuts down.

My opinions on my country’s system of government is that I like divided power and checks and balances. When it comes to operating programs, I want an efficient civil service. When it comes to passing legislation and handling the political aspects of government, I’m fine with a divided, inefficient government. Mostly because I view a large portion of new legislation and political action to often be of no value or even detrimental to the public at large.

That being said, I think you could maintain a proper division of powers but allow Congress to pass a budget without Presidential approval. I don’t think the United States would be worse off if our constitution stated that Congress could pass a budget and the President was not permitted to veto it. In essence make budget-passing a special type of legislation the President cannot veto–any legislation can be passed in spite of a veto with a 2/3rds majority but I’m talking about creating a special class of legislation that once passed by a majority of both houses instantly becomes law and is not even sent to the President for approval. While Democrats would bitterly oppose that right now, I would remind them there have been many times in which Democrats had a firm control of both houses of Congress and the White House was held by a Republican, so such a constitutional construct would be party-neutral over a long enough period of time.

Now, those who object on the basis of it giving Congress too much power, I would counter with: Congress is 535 elected people, the President is one elected person. I’m always in favor of more power to 535 than to the one, even though the one is elected by the people of all fifty states. Additionally, I think there is strong evidence that the President today is far more powerful than the President of 150 or even 50 years ago, so the Congress getting a little more power pushed in their direction wouldn’t be terrible.

Keep in mind, the United Kingdom has no real division of powers and it’s a mostly free country that is ran pretty well, so there’s no real evidence that say, giving Congress more power in this sort of scenario would lead to an apocalypse. All it would lead to is a weaker Presidency. If you equate the President to the King, it sort of even mimics the move towards greater power to Parliament at the expense of the King.

Of course, I’ve always felt differently about Presidential vetoes than maybe others have. I think the President should mostly be running the country and not passing legislation, by assuming for himself a permanent vote equal in power to 2/3rds of both houses in the legislature I feel like Presidents are too powerful in Congress. I think that by “custom” vetoes should only be used to strike down acts the President believes are unconstitutional or are “injurious to the public at large.” I know the term is vague, but I don’t want a clear cut rule, just a strong tradition which would politically preclude a President from just vetoing legislation based on political disagreement.

What stops a government shutdown in Westminster style systems is the simple fact the Government cannot get money/supply bills passed, it has lost its majority and hence can no longer govern. What results is a General Election.

Getting an unexpected and very expensive General Election will be unpopularl and a part who blocked supply bills could very easily be blamed for the fact of it.

You would find respectable British commentators who have said exactly the same thing. Although I don’t necessary agree with it, it’s not an unfounded “accusation”; especially when you consider that the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, combined with the supremacy of the House of Commons over the House of Lords, means that the Prime Minister can potentially bring about any change within the UK using exactly the same formal processes as used for (say) altering the legal penalties for drunk driving.

I think the problem with this suggestion, and indeed a problem at times with the US system of government as it exists at present, is that it effectively involves the legislature en masse in the executive administration of the country.

Congress could pass a budget without Presidential approval… if it overrode a veto. But I’ve never heard of that happening for an entire fiscal year’s budget, and only very rarely as to funding for a particular project, program or department. President Nixon tried impounding Congressionally-appropriated funds that he didn’t want to spend, but that didn’t turn out well for him.

I agree with those who said upthread that the President is not sovereign; “We, the People” are. The President is the chief executive and (although not explicitly described that way in the Constitution) the de facto head of state. Likewise the state governors in their respective states.

It surprised me that this was not the case here. But I think there’s a reason: with something like that, there would be less impetus to be able to force one party or the other to stand down. I’m pretty sure the threat of a government shutdown is the only reason anything has passed.