The rundown on the government shutdown

On Friday, President Trump agreed to reopen the federal government for three weeks while negotiations proceed over how to secure the nation’s southwestern border. According to the New York Times, Trump signed to restore normal operations at a series of federal agencies until Feb. 15 and began paying the 800,000 federal workers who were forced to work during the 35 day stint of the shutdown without pay. As negotiations over the border wall are now back in session, there are a fews ways this situation can proceed. Trump claims that if Republicans and Democrats cannot reach agreement on wall funding by the February deadline, that he is ready to reinstate the shutdown or declare a national emergency and bypass Congress.

As we wait over the coming weeks and follow reports from negotiations, here is a breakdown on everything that you need to know about a government shutdown

The Basics:

The way any government can run efficiently is money, or to put it more aptly it needs funding of a budget. This budget determines what parts of the federal government receive funding and, by how much.

“When legislature has to put together a budget or pass a budget, they are also arguing what they want the government to do. For the last 15 years, the two parties in Congress can’t agree on policies that the budget will support,” said Charles Zelden, professor of history and political science.

If the government can’t come to an agreement they can pass continuing resolutions which pass the budget, but leave everything the same as it was, with no increase or decrease in spending.

If both a negotiation on a new budget or continuing resolution cannot be reached before the deadline, the government can enter a shutdown.


A shutdown typically occurs when there is a fight over policy matter such as the Affordable Care Act, taxes, the Border Wall, or DACA for example.

“These fights are so intense that one side simply won’t agree or use [the shutdown] as a game of chicken so to speak. Who will blink first? By threatening the use of a government shutdown, unemployment of federal workers and pain to american people as leverage for one side to get the other side to blink and give in,” said Zelden.

The most recent shutdown:

In December the Senate voted on a series of continuing resolutions to fund the government through September. Three fourths of the continuing resolutions for the budget passing including the military. The partial government shutdown only accounted for only a quarter of the continuing resolutions being rejected by Trump’s veto power. This quarter involves commerce, Homeland Security, Department of Justice and other divisions that affect our daily life.

Most non-essential workers to these divisions were furloughed but most of these jobs are still essential to our society. 800,000 federal workers were forced to work without pay for the 35 days the government was shutdown. Even though most of these federal workers will be retroactively paid once the government reopens, it doesn’t satisfy the bills that were due during the shutdown.

“It’s a trickle down effect that directly affects the workers and ultimately affects everyone involved in our society. If a shutdown last long enough, it tears away at the supports of society,” said Zelden.

This most recent government shutdown wasn’t only the longest lasting government shutdown in history, but it can potentially result in zero growth this quarter and costed the incomes of federal workers and businesses that will have long-lasting effects.

“The President [backed] himself into a corner: the wall or nothing, Keeping the government shutdown until there is a budget for the wall, which Democrats have made clear they won’t accept. Or, accept nothing and back off. It’s hard to retreat if you’re a politician. Right now, the Democrats have the upper hand. They passed clean resolutions that the senate passed unanimously and are waiting for the president to approve it,” said Zelden.

In the past, government shutdowns were cases of long negotiations that got too close to the deadline and needed more time before everything was signed and approved. Starting in the 90’s, we began seeing government shutdowns used as a leverage to manipulate parties into agreeing to certain policies. This most recent shutdown is an example of this manipulation. At this point, we are just waiting to see who blinks.

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