Government Shutdown 2019

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Jessie Kessler

More stories from Jessie Kessler

Paint the Town Yellow
April 23, 2019
Workers protesting the government shutdown. (Google Common License)

Workers protesting the government shutdown. (Google Common License)

When it comes to immigration and funding, President Donald Trump and the Democrats are far from cooperative. December 22 marked the launch of a government shutdown that as Trump has warned, could last “for a very long time.” Now the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, the main focus of the argument is the border wall. Republicans want defense funding (the wall) and Democrats want to do everything in their power to make sure the wall isn’t built. To compromise, both sides have offered many options and alternatives for example, if Trump gets his money, he will create a 10- to 12-year pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants, which could include current DACA recipients. But democrats aren’t bugging due to the fact that this proposal does not guarantee citizenship.

Because of the shutdown, the country is in financial turmoil. For example, commercial airlines are facing slower demand as airports struggle with understaffed security checkpoints. Because of this, airlines are losing revenue. According to a Delta representative, the company has lost $25 million in revenue because of the shutdown. Along with money issues, stories keep coming to the surface regarding objects like guns getting through security due to a lack of TSA agents.

Financial disaster is hitting the homes of about 800,000 federal employees, who aren’t being paid. Regardless, some employees are being ordered to return to work even without payment. Many unpaid federal workers have resorted to filing for unemployment and food stamps. People are worried. The cashflow has come to a halt for many families and they can’t pay for food, bills, mortgage, or meet their kids’ needs. In fact, many affected workers have postponed making payments on outstanding debt because they need cash to get through the day. But missing payments means they now have to face late fees and the prospect of default.

There’s all this talk about government shutdowns but most Americans are not completely sure about what it is. A shutdown occurs when the president and Congress fail to sign 12 appropriations bills into law (which determines the distribution of funding between government agencies) in order to continue financing government operations. But how do we prevent another shutdown? Usually, when the federal government shuts down or is on the verge of shutting down, the issue is resolved in the short term by passing a “continuing resolution” (or CR). A CR is a temporary funding measure that keeps the federal government open and allows lawmakers more time to negotiate the remaining appropriations bills. But this isn’t effective seeing as we keep have shutdowns and that we’re currently experiencing the longest one in history.

Government shutdowns used to be few and far between — there were none under George W. Bush, and only one under Obama — but in less than two years in office, Trump has already been the ringleader of three. Shutdowns are mostly brief, but always disruptive, and seem to be getting more frequent. So, how can we end shutdowns? We could eliminate shutdowns altogether using something called an automatic CR: a law that says that in the event that Congress fails to authorize funding for the government, things will just keep going along the way they’ve been. Shutdowns hurt economy and job creation and cost the federal budget in billions of dollars. While it’s normal for Congress to authorize back pay to furloughed workers, that hardly makes up for the large disruption in the finances and life of federal workers. Shutdowns quite literally turn federal workers, who do critical work for modest pay, into pawns in a congressional chess game. An automatic CR would end that victimization. It would ensure regular, reliable payment for civil servants and avoid these periodic disruptions. If the adults in charge can’t mature enough to come to a decision before the deadline then life will go on as it was with minimal negative effects. But like all ideas, there are are cons. Many of the automatic CR critics are concerned that “eliminating the potential for shutdowns would worsen an already dysfunctional appropriations process by lowering the stakes of failure, making it harder to raise funding for specific programs and improve program efficiency in the future” (Vox). Given Congress and Trump’s demonstrated inability to reliably make decisions, as a country we should be thinking about ways to make the process more automatic and lower the destruction of congressional dysfunction. An appropriately-designed automatic CR would help.

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