Govt. shutdown threat is a fixture of U.S. politics but unknown elsewhere

By Andy Sullivan WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Bureaucrats in Brazil keep stamping visas and collecting taxes when the president and Congress battle over spending. In Romania, regulators keep issuing permits while the prime minister faces corruption charges. In Washington, by contrast, U.S. agencies have spent weeks planning for a possible shutdown as Republicans in Congress have threatened to withhold funding from President Barack Obama's administration. Congress stepped back from the brink on Wednesday, approving a temporary spending bill to keep the government operating through December. But experts said a government shutdown could loom again at that time. In much of the developed world, politicians can lose their jobs if they fail to hammer out a budget. The United States is the only place where government employees are sent home instead. Most countries keep funds flowing automatically during fiscal disputes, ensuring that day-to-day government functions are not disrupted. In Belgium, trains kept rolling when a political stalemate left the country without a prime minister for five months in 2014. Even recession-wracked Greece has kept its bureaucracy running through six prime ministers since 2012. "Threatening a shutdown is simply not an option," said Erik Voeten, a professor of geopolitics at Georgetown University. Because power in the United States is divided between the president and Congress, funding simply runs out when the two sides cannot agree on a budget before the fiscal year ends. Proposals to continue funding automatically have gotten little traction in Washington. "The threat of a shutdown gives legislators bargaining chips," said Stanford University political-science professor Gary Cox. Outside the United States, the last widely known shutdown took place in Australia in 1975. That ended when a representative of Queen Elizabeth II fired the prime minister and dismissed parliament. The United States has endured 18 government shutdowns since then, according to the Congressional Research Service. Most recently, the Obama administration was forced to furlough 850,000 federal workers for 16 days in 2013 when Republicans tried to repeal Obama's signature health care law, costing the economy up to $24 billion. This year, conservative Republicans threatened to shut down the government unless funding was cut off funding to Planned Parenthood, a provider of abortions and women's health services. On Wednesday, Congress voted to preserve Planned Parenthood funding and keep the lights on in Washington through Dec. 11. At that point, the confrontation could resume. (Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Bernard Orr)