US Government Shutdown, Put Simply

By Campaign Agent Megan Field

As of midnight on Saturday the US Federal Government shutdown for the thirteenth time since 1981. Whilst the longest shutdown, in 1995, endured for three weeks - the most recent was in 2013. Obama’s government shutdown for sixteen days due to bitter partisan divisions concerning Obamacare. Significantly, the one occurring under Donald Trump is unique as it is the first shutdown in which Congress and the White House have been controlled by the same party. This is unusual, as it would be expected that a President with this much theoretical control over both chambers (the Senate and the House of Representatives) would be able to pass legislation with relative ease. 

What is a government shutdown?

October 1st marks the start of the Federal fiscal year, but the occasion often passes without securing longterm spending laws, which regulate funding for government operations and agencies. Consequently, the President and Congress have to negotiate a series of short term deals; if they fail to do so, the government shuts down, as there is no legal authority to spend funds. In the event of a government shutdown, many federal agencies cease to operate, although essential services, such as the military, remain undisturbed. 

Why has it happened?

Unfortunately for President Trump, this calamity comes exactly one year since he took office. Spending measures, which would have funded the government until 16 February, passed in the House on Thursday but fell ten votes short of the supermajority needed in the Senate. As the deadline loomed on Friday, it was looking increasingly unlikely that the parties would be able to reach an agreement. The Republicans hold 51 seats in the Senate, which was not enough to secure the passage of the bill. Of course, it didn’t help that five of their own voted against the proposal

Democrats withheld support for the bill in an effort to protect the 700,000 “Dreamers”, or undocumented migrants who came to the US as children. They were granted temporary legal status under the Obama administration, but Trump announced in September that he was ending the programme. Admittedly, the bill did contain an olive branch of sorts as it promised to extend funding by six years for the Children’s Health Insurance Programme (CHIP), another key priority of the Democrats. Trump, however, undermined the efforts of his administration when he tweeted on Thursday that he thought this should be part of a long term agreement rather than a short term stopgap. 

Despite discussions between Trump and Chuck Schumer (the Senate Minority Leader) on Friday morning, in which the Senate minority leader offered to increase defence spending levels and provide money for border security, the two parties were at a stalemate. 

What impact will this have? 

A government shutdown is no laughing matter; whilst the military will continue to protect the nation’s security, and other essential institutions such as the police, prisons and taxation remain intact, many federal employees will be furloughed. Take the Department of Education for example, just 250 of the usual 4000 employees will be at work, and those who aren't will not be paid until the crises is resolved. Other national services such as the Smithsonian Museums and National Parks will also be affected. Despite the havoc this will wreak on the country (analysts predict this will cost the US roughly $6.5bn a week), Congress’ pay will remain unscathed. 

Understandably, representatives on both sides of the spectrum are keen to ensure this shutdown is short-lived. Chuck Schumer stated “there is a path forward” and it can be reached quickly. Negotiations in both houses continued on Saturday, and both parties are holding separate meetings to try to overcome the legislative gridlock. 

Who is to blame?

Of course, neither party wants to bare the weight of this on their shoulders, so they have taken to Twitter to shift the blame. Whilst the Democrats are brandishing this a #TrumpShutdown, key Republican figures are adamant this was the fault of the opposition, a #SchumerShutdown

In a virulent attack on Trump, Schumer expressed the view that the GOP who control the White House, Senate and the House, were responsible for keeping the government open. Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, highlighted the President’s hypocrisy... 

Republicans were quick to respond; House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, stated of the Democrats - “Tonight, they put politics above our national security, military families, and our country’s ability to serve all Americans”

Notably, in a poll, forty-eight percent of citizens said they’d blame Trump and the GOP, compared to twenty eight percent who blame the Democrats- a result which could have devastating repercussions for Republicans in the upcoming mid term elections. A further eighteen percent believed they were both equally to blame. 

Political point scoring aside, one thing they can all agree on is that a shutdown is categorically a disaster. Checks and balances are the cornerstone of the American political system, but when partisan division is put above legislative cohesion, it is clear that something has gone drastically wrong. 

Sources and Further Reading: 

Image: Douglas Simkin @Flickr

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