Breakdown: The Federal Government Shutdown.
You asked, I answered. I used my night off to research and write a breakdown of the Federal Government shutdown. Read, educate yourself, enjoy.
How can the government shut down?
The government is in many ways a massive business. It makes money through loans, taxes, etc, and it spends many on everything from defense, federal agencies (health, science, defense, parks, etc) and paying the millions of people that work for the federal government. Congress has to agree to fund all of these things by passing a budget.
The budget process is a mess, but here’s the short version:
- In February, the President submits a budget to Congress.
- There are twelve appropriation committees within the House and the Senate that put together budgets for various government functions and services. They pass their individual budget bills and send them to the House Budget Committee and the Senate Budget Committee.
- Both the House and Senate budget committees amend and submit their own versions of the twelve appropriation bills.
- Usually a committee is needed to reconcile the differences between the two different budgets.
- Once the differences are reconciled and the greater budget passes both the House and the Senate, the bill goes to the President, who signs it.
Polarization and policy gridlock have made Congress really bad at this. Each year, Congress is meant to agree on these appropriation bills that fund various federal agencies. But the Republican controlled Senate and the Democratically controlled House of Representatives haven’t, and therefore have been getting stuck on Step 4: Reconciliation. If they can’t agree on the appropriation bills, they can pass continuing resolutions to keep the government running while they bicker like children. These stopgap budgets have been keeping us afloat since 2009.
Like any business, with no budget we have no money to spend. And if we have no money to spend, the federal government enters a shutdown. This time around, Congress has not been able to even agree on a continuing resolution, so we have entered a shutdown.
Back Up. What happened? How did we get to this point?
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (hereafter referred to as ACA) - colloquially known as Obamacare - happened. I broke down the primary tenants of the Affordable Car Act a little while ago. A very long story short, Republicans have not let it go. To date, though doomed to fail in the democratically controlled Senate, Republicans have voted on repealing ACA nearly four dozen times. Though the law was passed, then subject to Supreme Court approval, then approved by the Supreme Court, Republicans have continued to lobby to have it either defunded or shut down.
The issue has come to a head in the last couple weeks. The Republican party initially insisted on attaching a bill to the containing resolution that would defund ACA. They then gave up on that and added a measure that would push back for one year a key tenant of ACA- The Federal Mandate (again, see the previous breakdown). President Obama refused to sign any budget that would diminish ACA, and urged Republicans to pass a “clean” bill with no provisions attached. Republicans refused. The stalemate went past the 30th, and the government shut down went into effect.
What exactly is a government shutdown?
A government shutdown is what happens when the government no longer has money to pay for the various government agencies and services it funds. Essentially, the government goes on auxiliary power, as all quintessential services continue but everything considered nonessential is shut down. All nonessential government employees are furloughed - sent home/temporarily suspended - until further notice. These nonessential services include parts of the National Institute of Health, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Justice Department, the Immigration department, the Department of Agriculture-run Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, and a plethora of other government services and agencies, will go on hiatus.
Various “essential” parts of these and other agencies stay open. Most of Social Security, employees that “provide for national security”, employees that “conduct activities that protect life”, etc, remain open. The list of agencies and services that are affected (and precisely which part of said agencies/services) is exhaustive; if you’d like to delve deeper, read this Washington Post article.
So who is affected?
The effect can be devastating. Approximately 800,000 government employees are no longer receiving income. Not only is this painful for those families, it is painful for an immeasurable amount of businesses at which these people will no longer be shopping. Every single sandwich shop, toy store, gas station, grocery store, etc, where these government employees would be spending their money will feel the pinch as those employees and their families tighten their belts. Secondly, the shutdown actually costs America a huge deal of money. The time and resources it takes to shut everything down and keep it safely shut down adds up; according to the Washington Post, the government shutdowns in the ’90s cost America almost $2 billion in current dollars.
Whose fault is it?
That’s the million dollar question. Many - including President Obama - argue that it is the fault of Congress Republicans for refusing to accept the Affordable Care Act as a passed and approved law. Republicans argue that they are fighting in the interest of the American people and their constituents, and blame the president for refusing to compromise. The arguing continues, and the hundreds of thousands affected by the government shutdown continue to suffer.
Black and white does not always equal grey, though. Several polls taken by multiple news and media organizations show that Americans place more blame for the GOP on the shutdown than President Obama. According to a CNN/ORC International Poll released on Monday, most Americans blame Republicans rather than the government for the shutdown. A CBS/New York Times survey released the week before indicates the same. The Republican party has taken a hit to their public image as they are seen holding the budget ransom, demanding that the President accept the hit to Obamacare or face government shutdown. The bluff was called, and the government (partially) shut down.
President Obama has stated that the Republicans refuse to give up their ideological crusade, and are willing to drag down the country with them. “They have shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans. In other words, they demanded ransom just for doing their job,” said Obama. Apparently, a majority of America is inclined to agree.
What do you think?
I think it’s complicated. The full story requires going back years and delving deep into the origins of the Tea Party - a radically conservative group of Republicans within Congress - and their sway over the rest of the party. But I believe that the end result is this: The Affordable Care Act has passed. It was voted into law, it was deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court. It is not going anywhere, and to damage the lives of millions of Americans for the sake of hurting the law is any way possible is irresponsible and deplorable. A budget must be passed. If Congress Republicans want to fight the Affordable Care Act, that is their right. But it should be done after the government has resumed its function.
“Absolutely Everything you need to know about how the government shutdown will work”. The Washington Post.
“Everything you need to know about why the government might shut down”. The Washington Post.
“Stages of the Congressional Budget Process”. House of Representatives Committee on the Budget.
“Government shutdown blame would fall on Republicans, GOP seen as ‘Spoiled Children’." The Huffington Post.
“Polls: Americans put more blame on the GOP for shutdown”. USA Today.