In countries that have inherited the Westminster system, loss of supply typically results in government being required to either reform as the majority that blocked supply; or dissolve parliament so the electorate can pass judgement and presumably break the deadlock.

As far as I can tell, the United States doesn't have an exact equivalent.

So my question is: Does the United States have a built-in mechanism to resolve loss of supply? And if not, why not?

  • Your link loss of supply , links to here: Presidential System and [Budget Crisis]( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budget_crisis) Is there something more specific that you are looking for that is not in either of these two articles?
    – jsb1109
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 13:35
  • Yes it is called Revolution. Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 14:11
  • @Chad - You say you want a revolution / Well, you know / We all want to change the world.
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 14:49
  • In theory, elections are that built in system. Doesn't always work as intended. Revolutions, arguably, are more of a symptom of not having a built in system.
    – user1530
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 14:51
  • @jsb1109 The Presidential System article is generic and only briefly discusses deadlock between the executive and the legislature, not deadlock within a bicameral legislature; which is to be expected as unicameral legislatures exist. The Budget Crisis article says that such deadlocks occur but doesn't say how loss of supply is resolved or if not, why not. Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 22:18

2 Answers 2


No the US has no mechanism for resolving this.

That's a consequence of two things that are distinct about the US system (compared with the Westminster and similar systems)

  1. The system where all budgets must be approved by both chambers of the legislature and the President, with no built in mechanism for resolving disputes. Coupled with an alternating electoral schedule, this makes it likely that the two chambers will be dominated by different, often opposed, parties, with no incentive for compromise.
  2. The fixed electoral schedule. This essentially prevents a deadlock from being taken to the people, as well as permitting a legislature that has lost the confidence of the people to continue until the next scheduled election.
  • 1
    Actually, the president is supposed to be that built in mechanism for resolving disputes. He is supposed to bring both sides to the table to negotiate in good faith to come up with a win-win compromise. Out of all the members of congress, the president is the ONLY person elected to represent ALL OF THE PEOPLE. That is why he is supposed to be the middleman, in addition to he is supposed to be the country's leader.
    – Dunk
    Commented Oct 14, 2013 at 18:14
  • @Dunk If you read the constitution you will find the President has absolutely no power at all to resolve disputes between Congress. Commented Oct 15, 2013 at 13:18
  • @DJ:I never said anything about the Constitution and neither did your post. History has shown that when congress is infighting that it is the president who has to be the adult and get things back on track. That is what leaders do.
    – Dunk
    Commented Oct 15, 2013 at 14:59
  • The question was about a built in mechanism. Commented Oct 15, 2013 at 15:04
  • 2
    Dunk, this has really stopped being about the question and started being about your personal opinion. Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 16:22

As DJClayworth correctly points out, there is no mechanism for forcing a resolution. But there are mechanisms for making a shutdown extremely unpleasant for Congress, ideally to the point that they pass a budget notwithstanding their political differences.

For starters, Article I Section 5 of the US Constitution provides that:

Each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members, and a majority of each shall constitute a quorum to do business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner, and under such penalties as each House may provide.


Neither House, during the session of Congress, shall, without the consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.

Additionally, Article II Section 3 provides:

[The President] shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in case of disagreement between them, with respect to the time of adjournment, he may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper; he shall receive ambassadors and other public ministers; he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed, and shall commission all the officers of the United States.

The combined effect of these clauses is to prevent either House of Congress from adjourning without the consent of both the President and the other house. If a recalcitrant Congress refuses to pass a budget and purports to adjourn, the President can forcibly reconvene them.

Depending on the procedural rules of each house and the degree to which their respective members want to pass a budget, it is also possible to compel the attendance of individual Senators and Representatives, in the event their absence prevents passage of a bill. The Senate, for example, allows this by simple majority of "the Senators present". That has actually happened on multiple occassions.

With these mechanisms, individual concerned Congresspeople and/or the President can very well "lock Congress in a room" until they pass a budget. This does not, of course, guarantee a budget, but it does make one substantially more likely as time elapses, approval ratings fall, and Congress gets progressively more desperate to see the light of day again (or at least, to start campaigning about how the shutdown is the other party's fault). In this respect, it is vaguely similar to a Papal conclave.

The Federal government has not yet needed to take such drastic measures as these to pass a budget, in part because it is undignified for both the President and Congress. However, a similar sequence of events has recently happened at least once at the state level: In 2009, New York managed to completely bugger up control over its Senate, and the governor resorted to calling special sessions and even temporarily withholding the Senators' pay(!). It does not seem to have worked particularly well in this instance, though. The Senators for each party convened separate sessions, refused to recognize each other, and then immediately adjourned for lack of quorum.

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