Government shutdowns: brief history and update

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Government shutdowns: brief history and update

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By Sophia McCellon and Delaney Vaught

It’s written in the U.S. Constitution that all use of federal funds must be authorized by Congress with the approval of the President. If Congress fails to pass all of the spending bills or if the president fails to sign/vetoes any of the individual spending bills, some functions of the government may be shut down due to a lack of authorized funding (Robert Longley, ThoughtCo., Jan13, 2019). This is called a government shutdown. During a federal government shutdown, authorities will still enforce laws and respond to emergencies, however, it does distress the entire country. It especially affects regions with significant numbers of individuals who rely upon or work in federal service. Depending on the length of the shutdown, things like automatic bill payments, retirement benefits, or health care services could become an issue for federal employees (Unknown,, Jan 10 2019).

Lincoln Memorial: Closed due to government shutodown

Around this time last year, the US went through its 19th government shutdown since 1976 (Dareh Gregorian, NBC News, Jan 4 2019). The shutdown happened after Chuck Schumer used a tactic in which an individual of power lets a government shutdown occur to get what he or she wants. In this case, Schumer was attempting to  “force President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans into locking in an immigration deal”. Schumer was trying to get a deal that would prevent the deportation of ‘dreamers’, people who were brought to this country illegally when they were children. His attempt at this tactic was a failure. Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader in the Senate, agreed to extend the governments funding for the program for only three weeks and made it clear that he would present an immigration bill if there was still no deal by then. In addition to this, Schumer’s actions divided the Democratic party, leaving liberal Democrats furious about the bill that moved through Congress later that week and centralist Democrats just glad for ‘what they saw as an ill-conceived confrontation’ to be over (Jonathan Allen, NBC News, Jan 22 2018).

Late December of last year (2018), the government started a shutdown that has become the longest in history.  A lot of federal businesses have closed during the shutdown. National parks have also shut down. The FCC closed many departments. Federal employees have already missed their first paychecks and some are unable to pay bills. Today, Jan. 23, marks the 33rd day of the shutdown and federal employees will miss their second paycheck on Friday.

The shutdown started on December 22, 2018. The Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Transportation, and the Treasury and the Environmental Protection Agency shut down. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stopped it’s inspections and stopped accepting approvals for new drugs. Since the FDA has stopped it’s food inspections they are not looking for illnesses such as E. coli. On December 28, 2018, the Department of Agriculture shut down farm service agency county offices. The environmental agency ran out of its funding so only essential employees have a job. On December 30th, National park services suspended trash pickup and closed parks.

On January 3, 2019, the FCC suspended most operations. This means the American sign language consumer video line and the consumer complaint center is shut down. The disability rights office had also been shut down.

StoptheShutdown Rally, D.C.

On January 11, 2019, many federal employees missed their paychecks. On the 12th this shutdown became the longest one in history. On January 15th, the Coast Guard missed their paychecks. On the 25th, federal employees will miss another paycheck.

The most recent shutdown, the 21st since ‘76, was a result of President Donald Trump demanding an additional $5.7 billion to pay for his south border wall after the Senate had already reached a budget agreement (Dareh Gregorian, NBC News, Jan 4 2019). The House and the Senate failed to reach a compromise on midnight of December 22 last year and the result was a government shutdown that has now become the longest in U.S. history. The shutdown has left 800,000 federal employees without pay, some working and expecting to be repaid once things are up and running again, and some at home or trying to find other temporary jobs. The effect has gone so far as to cancel family visits for a prison in Manhattan due to short staffing (Niraj Chokshi, New York Times, Jan 15 2019).

Senator Lindsey Graham

With no end in sight, this government shutdown has many U.S. citizens worried and confused. Some government officials are urging the president to reopen the government and find other ways to get what he wants; Senator Lindsey Graham says “The only way we are going to resolve this is to get people in a room that can talk. I am hopeful if any discussion might get started there might be a pathway forward in the Senate … I would urge the President, if you don’t want to work with Democrats who are willing to talk to you … then you need to do the emergency action because that’s the only pathway left, I think.” (Sunlen Serfaty and Sarah Mucha, CNN, Jan 16 2019)