Many people are concerned, and justifiably so, over the United States government shutdown but it’s not an unheard of occurrence. The current budget appropriations process was enacted in 1976 and since that time there have been 22 budget gaps and 10 of those times resulted in full or partial government shutdown in which federal workers were furloughed. The longest government shutdown was a full shutdown that stretched 21 days, which was under the Clinton administration in 1996. There was also a 1995 full shutdown under Clinton that lasted 5 days.
Historically, government shutdowns have most often occurred when the president or one or both chamber of Congress are unable to resolve their disagreements over budget allocations before the existing cycle ends. Which in the case of the current shutdown is because President Trump wants 5 billion dollars in funding for the border wall and congress is unwilling to include the funding in the budget proposal.
There were 8 shutdowns during the Ronald Reagan administration, none of which lasted more than 4 days. In 1990 there was a funding gap in the George H. W. Bush administration that lasted one weekend. In October of 2013 there was a shutdown during the Obama administration for 17 days. That shutdown was over a disagreement between Republicans and Democrats on the Affordable Care Act. This is the third shutdown under President Trump. There was a 3-day shutdown in January of 2018 and another funding gap in February of 2018 that did not result in any federal employees being furloughed.
Government shutdowns are costly in many ways, “During the 2013 shutdown, Standard & Poor's, the financial ratings agency, stated on October 16 that the shutdown had "to date taken $24 billion out of the economy, and shaved at least 0.6 percent off annualized fourth-quarter 2013 GDP growth". Anxiety levels get pushed to the top due to federal employees worrying about their paycheck and other citizens worried about government services not being available. The truth is, only a portion of the government, not all of it, is affected by the shutdown.
Some shutdowns have had minor impacts but the full federal government shutdowns have caused great numbers of civilian employees to be furloughed. During the shutdown furloughed employees aren’t even allowed to check their work email from home. Most of the agencies in the government require the furloughed employees to turn in their electronic devices until the shutdown is over. The Office of Management and Budget determines which government functions will stop during a shutdown. “Emergency personnel” continue to be employed, including active duty military, federal law enforcement agents, doctors and nurses who work in federal hospitals and air traffic controllers.
In the Department of Defense at least half of the civilian workforce and military technicians in the National Guard are furloughed and not paid during the shutdown. Congressmen and women continue to be paid because their pay cannot be altered except by direct law. Those last minute Christmas packages and card will be delivered since mail delivery is not affected by the shutdown. The postal service runs at 100% since they are already funded.
Departments affected by the shutdown include Homeland Security, Justice, State and Treasury, the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA. Some national parks have closed down and the National Park Service has warned that, “Access may change without notice.”
Most IRS operations have stopped. According to the contingency plan covering the final weeks of December, seven in eight of the agency’s nearly 80,000 employees have been sent home. This could potentially be a serious issue with tax filing season just around the corner.
Social Security already received funding for the 2019 fiscal year so that will not be affected.
Government employees working without pay includes thousand of FBI, DEA, Bureau of Prisons, Customs and Border Protection, Coast Guard, Secret Service as well as the Border Patrol and Transportation Security Administration. FBI investigations will continue unabated as was pointed out by the Justice Department’s pre-shutdown plan, “All operations of the F.B.I. are directed toward national security and investigations of violations of law involving protection of life and property.”
As for the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, approximately 85% of the employees are still working. One agency significantly affected by the shutdown is the Department of Housing and Urban Development. About 7,500 employees are furloughed from that department.
The office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, will also continue working. The investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election will continue because it does not rely on congressional action for funding.
Departments and agencies continuing with limited work include the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Many of their investigations will not be affected by the shutdown but some investigative work, mostly administrative, will be halted until the shutdown is over.
One agency that will be spared from the shutdown is the Veterans Administration. Robert L. Wilkie, the secretary of Veteran’s Affairs, said that his department was fully funded through the 2019 fiscal year.
Those receiving food stamps will still get the benefit for January according to a statement released by the Agriculture Department. Aid programs focused on child nutrition, including school lunch and breakfast programs, will also continue operating into February but it is unclear what will happen if the shutdown continues beyond February. For the duration of the shutdown federal funds will not support food assistance programs for women, children and infants or for people on Native American reservations although they may continue operate at the state and local level.
The Violence Against Women Act expired in December but will continue to operate. The only negative impact will be the delaying of payment requests from programs funded by the law.
The 2013 Obama administration government shutdown was similar to the current situation, with President Obama and the Senate pushing for his Affordable Care Act and a Republican house strongly opposed to it. The 16 days of the shutdown kept 1.3 million government employees in political turmoil purgatory as they were required to work without pay and furthermore, without even knowing when they might receive their next check.
The current budget impasse has shown now promise of ending anytime soon. President Trump and Congress are still at a stalemate over funding for the wall. With a Democratic majority now in power in Congress and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) refusing to budge on the budget, there is no way to even make an educated guess at how long the shutdown will last.
The President and the democrats have made ultimatums at opposite ends of the spectrum and have grown no closer to ending the shutdown. On January 3rd, Pelosi responded to a reporter’s question regarding funding for the wall, “"No, no. Nothing for the wall," Pelosi replied. "We're talking about border security."
"We can go through this all back and forth -- no," Pelosi added. "How many more times can we say no? Nothing for the wall."
As most Americans know, the border wall and border security were the foundation of President Trump’s campaign and he isn’t likely to back down. Even if the Democrat-controlled Congress passes a budget sans border wall funding, the chances are slim that it would make it through the Senate and if it did, President Trump most likely wouldn’t sign it anyway. President Trump has insisted that he can declare a national emergency to fund the border wall. There is a provision that allows that President Trump to do that but if he did, he would face court challenges requiring him to detail what the actual emergency is.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Shumer (D-NY) said that President Trump stated that the shutdown could, “last months or years.” President confirmed this, “Absolutely I said that,” said Trump during a Rose Garden press conference, when asked if Senator Chuck Schumer was correct in his claim that the White House was prepared to continue the shutdown indefinitely.” President Trump has also said that he would use the “military version of eminent domain” to obtain private property for the wall.
There has been no source of optimism on ending the shutdown from either political party. With each Twitter tweet or press release Pelosi and President Trump dig their heals in deeper. Meetings at the White House between President Trump, Shumer and Pelosi have done nothing to ease tensions. If anything, the meetings seem to have created more anger and frustration from both sides. There is little doubt that President Trump would continue the government shutdown for months if he doesn’t get his funding. He’s done nothing if not shown that he’s persistent and tenacious in obtaining his goals and furthering the Republican agenda.
The most serious aspect of the shutdown concerns the employees that are working without pay; How long are they willing to work without receiving a paycheck? How long are the furloughed employees willing to wait before they look for a different job in the private sector? The shutdown could prove to be crippling if it does last for several weeks or months as the lives and livelihoods of the employees and their families hang in the balance.
When the government does start up again, how long will it be before all of the departments are caught up on the work that they were doing when the shutdown began? Investigations and issues that sat in stasis for years to begin with will take even longer to settle now. Knowledgeable and experienced employees who decide to find other employment leave a gap at their positions that will have to be filled.
A lengthy shutdown would almost certainly cost the country considerably. A shutdown of several weeks or months would affect every American in one way or another. Federal programs would go unfunded and people from farmers to businesspeople would feel the effect of the government shutdown in one way or another.
The Department of Agriculture is already feeling the effects because the data that it relies on so heavily isn’t available. The USDA announced on January 4th that it would not release several key reports, including the monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates. The spokesman for the American Farm Bureau Federation said, “Due to the government shutdown, farmers and ranchers have limited market information that can be used for these price discovery and risk management operations of their business. Farmers and ranchers rely on government reports from the USDA as they manage their business on a day-to-day basis.”
The closure of Farm Service Agency offices has impacted many farmers because they can’t apply for new loans or receive payments from the US-China trade.
The FCC has suspended “most operations” due to the funding gap. Consumer complaint services are unavailable until the shutdown ends. The FCC released a notice that said it would suspend its “180-day time clock” for reviewing transactions including mergers, which includes the on-again, off-again Sprint T-Mobile deal currently under review.”
The Small Business Administration, the agency that gives entrepreneurs loans has stopped issuing new loans. This has a significant effect on the economy, as many businesses may not be able to expand until the office reopens.
Mandatory health and safety inspections for housing for low-income families, the elderly and people with disabilities have been suspended according to the department’s contingency plan. The office said that they don’t know how long rental assistance payments will continue.
The line between the political parties has been drawn in the sand, and it’s been drawn along the border from California to the Gulf of Mexico. No matter how long the shutdown lasts people are already impacted and will continue to be impacted by it. The “give-and-take” component is an integral part of government function and seems to have been thrown out of the window.
With hardliners toeing the line on both sides, cooperation for the good of the nation seems to be an antiquated idea. We can only hope that common sense will eventually win out over party loyalty and that the sides will come to some agreement that will see the shutdown ending sooner rather than later.
Border Wall Facts
The US/Mexico border is 1,954 miles long.
President Trump is asking for 5 billion dollars in border wall funding.
705 miles of border fencing has been constructed. This “wall” is constructed of a variety of barriers and not any one particular type. President Trump has commissioned 8 prototypes and says that he wants 1,000 miles of the border wall constructed.
The Department of Homeland Security said that congress had approved 124 miles of new and replacement barriers, using some of the designs already in place. Of the approved barriers, 40 miles of replacement barriers have been built or started. They are expected to break ground on another 61 miles of border area this year.
Construction was scheduled to begin in February on 14 miles of new barriers. They would be the first extension of the current barriers.