The words “government shutdown” sound so catastrophic and scary, almost like a Purge-type situation. While a government shutdown might not indicate a period of lawlessness and anarchy, there’s no denying that it has other negative implications.
A shutdown occurs when Congress fails to pass a budget resolution for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1. The Jan. 19 shutdown was caused by partisan disagreements regarding both the budget and whether the resolution would be tied to solutions for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Past shutdowns have been the consequence of other political disagreements, like Republicans’ attempt to impose restrictions on the Affordable Care Act in 2013. Health care policy became directly related to the federal budget with the new ACA legislation because the government would have to provide funding. After toggling the shutdown bill between the Democratic Senate and the Republican House of Representatives, the two could not reach agreement and entered the fiscal year with no spending legislation.
The functions of the government are categorized as either essential or nonessential; nonessential services are those that are unavailable during a shutdown. That includes, but is not limited to, the closure of certain monuments and national parks as well as the halting of some Internal Revenue Service enforcements and fee collections, which contributes to direct costs for the federal government. Post offices, border control and the military keep functioning. According to the Obama White House Archives, 850,000 people were sent home per day at the peak of the 2013 shutdown, and 120,000 fewer private sector jobs were created in the first two weeks of October. Even employees of some essential offices do not receive pay until a shutdown ends, so despite the many functions that keep operating in the midst of a shutdown, lots of people are harmed by shutdowns in a multitude of ways.
While closures are taking place, the task of Congress is drafting a spending bill that a majority will vote for, which is usually only short-term so that employees can get back to work without having to wait for lawmakers to decide on long-term legislation. Each day that the government is closed, results in exorbitant amounts of money being lost by the government and its employees. The Jan. 19 shutdown ended after the adoption of a spending bill that funded the government only through Feb. 8. Despite the fact that the bill did not address the fixes for DACA, Democrats voted in favor of it because they did not want the government to remain immobilized.
A government shutdown, then, is a consequence of lawmakers’ failure to compromise over divisive issues, which are often thrown under the rug due to the pressure to reopen the government.