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Jed Bartlet and Barack Obama... life imitating art?
Stranger Than Fiction

13 things The West Wing taught us about shutting down the US government

When in doubt, go to a shutdown party.

THE US GOVERNMENT is in shutdown for the first time in 17 years.

While it might have been some time since anyone’s been through this in real life, we’re not completely clueless, thanks to US political drama The West Wing.

Season 5 of the show (first broadcast in late 2003) reaches a climax with a government shutdown after a failure to agree on the federal budget.

Over two episodes, the democratic president Jed Bartlet plays chicken with the other side…

The Republicans want one thing:

And the Democrats want another:

Usually, in order to continue funding the government this would happen:

But sometimes, there’s deadlock:

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And with deadlock comes…

In the case of the West Wing shutdown, both sides disagreed over budget cuts, with the Republicans demanding a deal that would have forced President Bartlet to renege on election promises.

So, he shut it down.

What’s happening at the moment in real life in Washington is a disagreement over President Obama’s controversial health insurance package Obamacare.

House Republicans say they’ll only agree on the federal budget if Obamacare is delayed by a year. The Democrats say “no”. You can catch up on the finer details in’s handy explainer.

We don’t know how long the shutdown will go on for, but here are some things we might expect, if The West Wing is anything to go on…

1. People get sent home





2. We don’t know how long it will last

3. Some things stay open

4. And some things don’t


5. Both sides sweat it out in a war room, wondering how to call each other’s bluff

6. Important people have to do everything for themselves

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7. At times of crisis, the president watches basketball

AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

8. Watch those headlines

9. People have ‘shutdown parties’


10. The shutdown has some unexpected effects, like elk overpopulation

11. The First Lady is the REAL boss


12. Making a grand gesture is the way to go






13. Never, EVER keep the president waiting



And so while the Republicans debated inside the Speaker’s office, the Democrats turned on their heel and left The Hill.

The Republicans looked like cowards, the media lapped it up, and the president got his way.

And they all lived… er… happily ever after.

Explainer: Why has the US government shut down, and what does it mean?

Shutdown or no shutdown, Obamacare launched today>

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