The Government Shutdown: The Facts

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For almost three days this past week, the United States government was shut down, marking the second time in recent memory that such an event has happened. The most interesting difference in this instance, though, is that it marks the first shutdown under a unified government, when one party— in this case, the Republicans— have control of all three branches of government. Just enough Democrats and hardliner Republicans failed to vote in the Senate for the budget which was passed through the House and so the government’s “non-essential” operations ceased on Sunday.

A government shutdown is, in the simplest terms, when Congress cannot agree on what is known as an appropriations bill. The appropriations bill is essentially the official term used for the budget, and can really be used interchangeably. This bill includes the allotted funding for all three of the government’s various departments, programs, and offices for the fiscal year. It is also important to note that it requires a ⅔ vote from both the Senate and the House of Representatives to be passed, making it much harder for a majority party to push through its agenda without at least some concessions to the opposition. When the appropriations bill is not passed before the deadline, we get a government shutdown. Until Congress can reach an agreement, all non-essential services are suspended and their employees go without pay. Key government services, including Homeland Security and Social Security, remain unaffected.

This most recent budget drew criticism from both Democrats and fiscally conservative Republicans. For Democrats, the key issues were the Child Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The former is a program that lapsed in September, which provided medical insurance for children from low-income families, while DACA is an Obama-era code which allowed for the stay of deportation of illegal immigrants who came to the US as minors. Those protected by DACA are sometimes referred to as “Dreamers.” While CHIP had already lapsed, DACA isn’t set to lapse until March. Drawing criticism on Democrats for their priorities, Republicans found objections in the bill’s deepening of an already massive national debt.

The version of the bill passed by the House included some provisions to persuade moderate Democrats, such as funding CHIP, but not enough to sway Democratic leadership in the Senate, which culminated in the government shutdown at midnight Saturday January 20. On Monday January 22, several Senators met to attempt to reach some kind of detente, and a bill was passed 69 hours into the shutdown, with the promise to Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer from Republican leadership that the future of DACA would be discussed.

As of writing, the blame game continues. Some point at Republicans, as the first party to have control of all three branches of government, yet still face a shutdown, while others point to Democrats and their seeming brinkmanship. Yet others still look to President Donald Trump’s apparent flip-flopping on negotiations and meddling in legislative affairs. How all of this affects both parties remains to be seen, but may play an important role in this year’s midterm election.