Earlier this year the US experienced the longest government shutdown in its 242 year history. For 35 days 420,000 Americans worked without pay and 380,000 employees were furloughed. Those employees are now receiving back pay, but the money hasn’t come yet. Many people were living paycheck to paycheck before the shutdown, and the lack of income is crippling. It is also estimated that the US lost approximately 1.18 billion USD during the shutdown. While this shutdown is over, the threat of a second shutdown looms heavy.
The United States and her many government agencies require funding in order to operate. Every year, in December, it is up to Congress to propose and adopt a budget that allocates money to each program. If both sides of the aisle can not agree on a budget, the US enters a partial government shutdown. As there are no funds allocated, people are not paid and services are not rendered. The exception to this rule includes “essential services”, a term used to describe jobs such as law enforcement, air traffic controllers, and any other positions that, without them, people would be at risk. For example, while there are typically 3,055 employees at NASA, only about 200 were reporting for duty during the government shutdown. This was to ensure the safety of the astronauts aboard the ISS. The shutdown was ended, temporarily, using a continuing resolution. This means that instead of implementing new, updated budgets, the government reopens for a set time using the budgets set in the last fiscal year. While this meant the nearly 800,000 federal employees who went without pay are now receiving paychecks again, there is still danger in the horizon. If Congress can not decide on a new budget by February 15th, the shutdown will recommence.
Funding issues have happened 20 times in America’s history and the reasons vary, such as the standoff between the House and the Senate in 2013 over the Affordable Care Act. The culprit this year: President Trump’s border wall. Specifically President Trump requiring $5.7 billion USD to be added to any spending bill for the building of the border wall. While many House and Senate republicans agree with the President, democrats have called the wall immoral, inexpensive and inefficient. They have proposed other measures ranging from a security fence to improved technology to denying the crisis exists at all. Proponents of the border wall argue that it is a necessity in order to lower the amount of illegal immigration and the problems that are associated with it. President Trump, in the State of the Union address, referenced the hundreds of thousands of people who enter the United States illegally every year, speaking of the horrors that they face in their journey. He talked about the sex trafficking and drugs that are brought across our border. He even brought the family of a recently murdered couple to the event, citing them as a personal example of what the lack of border security has led to. In this case, neither side seems willing to yield.
Despite no obvious solution in sight, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, in an interview with Politico, said “There will not be another shutdown. No, it’s not going to happen.” Republicans and Democrats are frantically searching for a middle ground that will keep the government open. Both sides have now agreed to some kind of increased funding for a border barrier and are just looking for the price point now. Democrats are opposed to increasing funding of any kind that would be dedicated to building onto the border detention facilities. This comes in response to the photos that surfaced last year of children put in small cells, these photos were taken during the Obama administration, but are still a key point to the disagreement on security. Both sides agree to increasing personnel on the border, but have yet to find an agreement on the number and the exact nature of said jobs. While negotiations are still not finished, the general atmosphere in Congress has changed. Many congressmen and congresswomen have been described as optimistic and hopeful. With pressure from just about everywhere and talks continuing, hopefully a bipartisan decision can be made soon.