Budgeting, politics, baby boomers to blame for government shutdown, say HKS experts


By Tim Purinton, Staff Writer

United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack failed to show at the Kennedy School on Wednesday night for a planned talk on ‘Rural Innovation’ due to the federal government shutdown.

Not one to leave an audience hanging, the Institute of Politics (IOP) hustled together a panel of Kennedy School experts to address the situation, including HKS Professors David King and Linda Bilmes and Shorenstein Center Fellow and Time Columnist Joe Klein.

The lively discussion started with a heckler, drifted into the merits of biannual budgeting and ended with an insightful question from a middle school student.

Moderator Maralee Schwartz jumped right in to ask why the United States federal government was in shut down.

Photo by Martha Stewart
Photo by Martha Stewart

Klein was quick to note that sometimes, “bad government happens to good people.” He blamed gerrymandering as creating congressional districts that do not represent a cross-cultural strata.  Klein, who described himself as a “flaming moderate” went right after the media blaming it for “tribalizing” the people. Interestingly he laid blame on his baby boom generation, a generation that was groomed to confront authority – which he sees as mirrored in the tactics of Tea Party Republicans.

According to Bilmes, the shutdown was in part an institutional problem. “We budget too often,” she said, adding that the US budget process was stuck in the Stone Age.

King offered a less technical, more political insight. He proposed that Speaker of the House John Boehner was ‘trying to survive’ in his post as Speaker by pandering to factions of his party, as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor waits in the wings.

The panelists agreed that the shutdown was a precursor to the looming debt ceiling debate and the merits of the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare) were on the line.

Not surprisingly given the venue, the role of HKS was broached. Klein noted that a Master in Public Policy degree was fashionable but perhaps the country “needs inspired brilliant managers” advocating for a stronger focus on public administration.