On Saturday night at midnight, the U.S. federal government shut down, due to Congress not coming up with a short-term spending bill (or agreeing on a budget for the year). People are wondering how this shutdown affects them and why there is one in the first place. On Monday, Congress reached an agreement on a short-term spending plan that would reopen the government until Feb. 8. But Congress still has many obstacles ahead to tackle, including another possible shutdown next month if they can’t reach a long-term agreement.
What is a government shutdown?
A government shutdown occurs when agreement on funding can’t be reached in Congress and non-essential federal programs temporarily close until an agreement can be reached.
The most current bill passed in the House, but failed to pass in the Senate. Sixty votes are needed to pass the bill but it failed to pass with a 49-50 vote. The resolution that was introduced would have insured funding until Feb. 16, but Democrats and even some Republicans refused to vote for the bill, largely because the bill did not resolve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) situation. DACA was an administrative action signed in 2012 by President Barack Obama that protected illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. In September 2017, President Donald Trump pledged to shut down DACA, leaving Congress to come up with a solution. The end of DACA could leave more than 700,000 “Dreamers” vulnerable to deportation according to a wide variety of media sources and advocates. As part of Monday’s agreement, Congressional leaders pledged to continue talks about immigration. “The very first step is ending the government shutdown,” Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) told The New York Times.
OK, so what happens during a shutdown?
During a shutdown, non-essential government operations are shut down. Federal workers who are considered “non-essential” stay home without pay. Some of these jobs can include federally contracted construction workers, employees at national parks and monuments (including MLK’s boyhood home here in Atlanta), and according to Time magazine, “processing passport and visa applications and maintaining government websites” among others. Small business loans will also be unavailable during a shutdown.
According to CNN, during a government shutdown in 2013, around 850,000 federal employees were “furloughed” per day. This means up to 5.9 million federal employees could be put on leave per week.
Who’s to blame?
Three groups are responsible for the impasse: U.S. Congressional Republicans, U.S. Congressional Democrats, and the president. By the end of Friday night, Republicans failed to try to convince the Democrats of a deal. Leading up to Monday’s mid-day vote to re-open the government, Congress worked throughout the weekend to try to reach an agreement.
Although Republicans did try to negotiate with Democrats, specifically those in the Senate, they failed. This is for multiple reasons. Some Democrats did not want to vote for the temporary funding bill because it would just “kick the can down the road.” Some Republican senators suggested passing a temporary solution and working to solve everything by Feb. 16. Senate Democrats rejected this because they wanted a permanent solution that would last longer.
Congressional Democrats are not satisfied with anything the Republicans offer if it is not a long-term spending solution and if it does not resolve the DACA issue. Democrats are receiving blame by some voters for not passing the solution that was voted on Friday night, a three-week spending bill that would give more time for negotiations. This failed because Democrats did not get DACA resolved, leading to the government to shut down.
At first, a bipartisan conclusion was introduced when the president and Congressional leaders met to discuss a solution in the White House last week. Things were looking fine until the President’s base started to get angry him reconsidering his stand on DACA. Things didn’t help either when the infamous “s—hole” comments came out. The president also seemed to become more focused on receiving funding for the wall he’s pledged to build along the U.S./Mexico border. When a bipartisan bill was introduced to the President, he rejected it.
Top Republicans like Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Alabama) and Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) have said publicly they are scrambling to find out what the President wants. It is evident that if Republicans cannot find out what the President wants, a solution cannot be found.
All parties have their own flaws that together create a recipe for failure in Washington D.C. First, Republicans and the President must get on the same page, then Senate Republicans need to negotiate a solution that Democrats will vote for. And finally, once a common solution is found, a vote should be put in place. It is important that both parties and the President stop pointing fingers, sit at the table and negotiate, and find a long-term solution.