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THE US GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN and the Primacy of the President in International Affairs



Law and politics are intertwined; the political ideas derive their legitimacy through the vehicle of law. Francis Fukuyama, while tracing the origins of these political ideas in his celebrated article ‘The End of History’ (that later became main thesis of his book titled ‘The End of History and the Last Man’) noted:

“For better or worse, much of Hegel’s historicism has become part of our contemporary intellectual baggage. The notion that mankind has progressed through a series of primitive stages of consciousness on his path to the present, and that these stages corresponded to concrete forms of social organization, such as tribal, slave-owning, theocratic, and finally democratic-egalitarian societies, has become inseparable from the modern understanding of man.”

The US was obviously in the imagination of Fukuyama when he alluded to ‘democratic-egalitarian’ societies. The US government shutdown, like many other events, has underlined the gap that exists in translating the intellectual components of political ideas into law which, thereupon, shape political behaviour. The instant adumbration will try to examine the constitutional aspects of the US government shutdown and its relationship with the international relations.

I. The legal framework

In the architecture of the US Constitution, the powers of the organs of the state – the executive, the judiciary and the legislature – are calibrated. All these organs are interdependent and this is what leads to the famous system of checks and balances and the separation of powers. In the context of the shutdown, the ‘purse’ is at the heart of the debate. Due to the relationship of the lawmaking and the budget-making, the power to authorise expenditure from the government exchequer is vested in the Congress vide two constitutional clauses:

1. Taxation clause: The US Constitution allows the Congress exclusive power to lay taxes that fill the government ‘purse’; Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 reads:

“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.”

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About Kamran Adil

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The author is an independent researcher and has done his BCL from the University of Oxford. kamranadilpsp@gmail.com

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