This past Saturday marked the first anniversary of US President Donald Trump’s inauguration. However, before the celebration could begin, came news that lawmakers had failed to garner the 60 votes needed to pass a short-term budget bill to fund government operations until February 16. As a result, at 12:01 am on January 20, the US government officially shut down! How did we get here and what happens next? Read on . . .
As you are probably aware, the US government is run like a business. At the end of every fiscal year, which runs from September 30 to October 1, Congress approves the amount of funding that each department, agency, and program will receive to pay for operations, staff, equipment, and day-to-day expenses. However, the deadline is rarely met since members of the minority party, in this case, the Democrats, often use the budget approval as a bargaining tool to get their desired policies, or spending needs, approved. Most years, the differences are resolved within a few months. Unfortunately, that is not the case this year.
Events Leading To The Shutdown
The 2017-2018 budget stall is primarily due to a disagreement about US immigration policies. President Trump and his Republican Party are seeking additional funding to increase security along the United States/Mexico border. Democrats want to pass a bill to legalize the millions of immigrants who have enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Without that, the so-called DREAMers, who came to the US as minors, will be forced to return to their country of origin starting March 7. They are also concerned about the expiration of the low-income Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which will leave millions of kids without health coverage starting as early as February 1.
To try to come up with a solution that would appease everyone, on December 21, 2017, US lawmakers voted on a temporary spending bill to fund government operations until January 19, 2018. Things seemed to be going well, and on January 11, 2018, Congress even announced a bipartisan bill that addressed the critical issues of contention. Unfortunately, the proposal was rejected by President Trump, sending lawmakers back to the negotiating table.
After failing to reach consensus, on Thursday, January 18, the House of Representatives proposed another temporary bill that would allow the government to remain open through February 16. Though it included reauthorization of the CHIP program for six years, there was no provision for an extension of the DACA program, which is set to expire on March 5. Not willing to compromise, Senate Democrats — and a few Republicans — voted against the temporary spending bill. The 50 affirmative votes fell short of the 60 required to pass the bill, triggering the 18th government shutdown since the current process to pass budget and spending bills was implemented in 1976. This, however, is the first time it has happened when one party — the Republicans — control both House and Senate.
Starting Monday, January 22 only “essential” government employees were asked to come to work. These included members of the police force, national security personnel, as well as those with the military. Medicaid and Medicare workers will also continue work as usual, while the White House will operate on about a third of the normal 1,715 staff members.
Meanwhile, “nonessential” employees — which numbered 850,000 during the 2013 shut down — are furloughed until an agreement is reached. As a result, many government services remain closed or are operating on a reduced schedule. This includes departments that review veterans’ disability applications, conduct Environment Protection Agency inspections, and monitor disease outbreaks. The Trump administration has stated that National Parks will remain open, unlike in 2013, when their closure resulted in a loss of more than $500 million.
Though nonessential employees will receive back pay once the government is up and running, the process often takes several months, causing hardship on families that depend on the monthly income. Government shutdowns are also damaging for the economy. Moody’s Analytics estimates that the 16-day shut down in 2013 cost the country $20 billion.
Not surprisingly, members of both parties worked through the weekend to create a mutually acceptable temporary bill to fund government expenses until February 8. Earlier today, (Jan 22) they reached a compromise after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to make DACA a priority if the Democrats voted for the stopgap measure. The bill, which passed by an overwhelming 81-18 votes, will now go to the House for approval and finally to President Trump for his signature. Hopefully, lawmakers will speed up the process so that the government can resume normal operations.
The temporary funding bill was approved by the House and signed into law by President Trump. It funds the government until February 8, giving lawmakers 17 days to agree on a longer-term budget. The best news is that the hundreds of thousands of “nonessential” federal employees will be able to return to work on Tuesday morning.
Resources: Vox.com, federaltimes.com, nbc.com, cnn.com