It’s official, for the first time in almost five years, the federal government of the United States shut down. In a last-ditch vote on Friday, Jan. 19, the Senate voted 50-49 to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government in Washington for an additional month. How did this happen, and how does this affect you? Those questions, and some myths about the shutdown, will be addressed here.
First, what is a government shutdown? It means the federal government of the United States has run out of funds allocated to it for a certain time period. This means all government services and functions deemed “non-essential” are curtailed. National parks and monuments close, new actions by certain agencies are suspended, but things such as the military and Social Security stay functioning.
How does this sort of thing keep happening? The last government shutdown in 2013, which lasted for 16 days, went along similar lines. That time, the dispute was over Obamacare. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives wanted to cut Obamacare, while the Democratic Senate wanted to keep it in place. Because the major parties could not agree on a budget for the next fiscal year, a continuing resolution failed to pass to extend government funding, and the shutdown occurred.
This time around, the Republicans control the House, Senate and the presidency, so what’s holding things up? This is the charge many have laid against Donald Trump and the Republican congressional leadership. They control all the levers of government, so the shutdown is entirely their fault right? Well, it’s not quite that simple. While the House can pass appropriations bills by a simple majority, which it did the preceding Thursday, in the Senate they require 60 votes. The Republicans hold only 51 Senate seats, which means nine Democrats were needed to keep the government running.
So what was the holdup? The answer is a program called DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Under this program created by President Obama in 2012, around 800,000 illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children were protected from deportation. In September 2017, President Trump rescinded the program and gave Congress until March 5, 2018, to send him a bill concerning it before it expired. Democrats want language about DACA included in the government funding, while Republicans and Trump want DACA to be part of a wider immigration deal including money for a wall and other immigration measures.
In the Senate, 45 Republicans and 5 Democrats voted to continue to fund the government, while 44 Democrats and 5 Republicans voted against the resolution. By percentages, this means almost 90 percent of the 51 Republican senators voted against the shutdown, while the opposite is true for 90 percent of the 49 Democratic senators. Whether or not you believe the Republicans should have caved to Democratic demands, Democrats are mathematically responsible for the shutdown.
This was a similar pattern to 2013, when the vast majority of Republicans voted to shut down the federal government over Obamacare. They were rightly blamed then because the math worked the same way. The Democrats have now committed the identical action here in 2018.
Of course, when legislative bickering like this happens, we all lose. I would have hoped to see some sort of bipartisan deal, but politicians in Washington seem to be more interested in making stands on their favorite issues rather than working for the common benefit of the American people.
If we want to keep things like this from continuing to occur, we as citizens need to remain vigilant and hold our lawmakers accountable. We need to follow the news and events and see which politicians are working for us, and which are working for their political party. Keeping a close eye on things, and voting out those in Congress who aren’t doing their jobs, is the only way to have the functioning government we deserve.
Connor Kockler is a Sauk Rapids-Rice High School student. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.
Author: Connor Kockler
Kockler enjoys extensive reading, especially biographies and historical novels, and he has always had an almost inborn knack for writing well. He also enjoys following the political scene, nationally and internationally. In school, his favorite subjects are social studies and language. Two of his other hobbies are golfing and bicycling.