Government shutdown: Some global perspective

The Australian Parliament

LONDON While many foreign nationals look with disbelief at the most powerful government in the world shutting itself down because of political gridlock, the problem is not historically unique to Washington.

In 1975, the House and Senate of Australia's Parliament were led by opposing parties, and, much like contemporaries in Washington, they couldn't agree to the terms of a budget, so the government shut down.

As the Washington Post recounted in an article Wednesday, in the end, the matter was resolved swiftly by Queen Elizabeth II of England, who, as official leader of the Commonwealth nation, simply sacked the entire parliament.

It took only one day for the Queen's official representative in Canberra to summon the Australian prime minister and fire him. Hours later, The Queen's man in Australia fired the entire parliament, in a speech ending with "God save the Queen". Australia held general elections a month later to replace the entire legislature.

While the U.S. is a former British colony, unlike Australia it is not part of the Commonwealth of Nations, so the Queen won't be intervening to turn the lights back on in federal offices around America.

In a more contemporary, if less-directly related case-study, Ireland's government is beset by financial woes right now, and, while an interesting concept to ponder, it's unlikely the solution being voted on this week by the Irish public could offer a remedy to the U.S. Congress.

On Friday, the Irish might vote to abolish their entire Senate.

Ireland's Senate is not directly elected by voters and does not have the same powers as its U.S. namesake; it cannot veto bills, only delay them, and most actual government work is done by the House.

The current ruling party in Ireland campaigned hard for the abolition of the Senate in the country's last election, arguing that scrapping it would save 20 million euros every year. A bill passed parliament on July 23, 2013, giving the citizens of Ireland a rare opportunity to essentially abolish half their government.

Recent polls have indicated that most of the population is likely to vote in favor of the abolition. Given Ireland's financial crisis -- which required a massive international bailout in 2010 -- it's hardly surprising.

The Irish situation is no parallel to the quandary facing the United States right now, but there are likely a great many Americans who find themselves envious of the prospect of sacking Congress, or at least half of it.