Unpacking the government shutdown

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The United States federal government shut down at midnight Jan. 20. This was the first government shutdown under the Trump administration and, more significantly, the first shutdown where a single political party has control of both Congress and the White House.

Republicans were unable to end a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, so legislation to fund the government was not passed. The topics of concern for many senators were Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and funding for a wall along the United States-Mexico border.

The House Republicans passed a bill Jan. 18 that would have funded the government for four weeks while extending the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years. While the shutdown has been attributed to poor cooperation by Democrats, both parties are to blame. The bill needed 60 votes to pass in the Senate, but did not reach this mark, rejected by both Democrats and Republicans.

Trump said he was going to end the DACA program in March, which could affect around 700,000 immigrants. Since then Democrats have been pushing for a bipartisan proposal to address this problem, so many rejected the House’s spending bill as the extension of CHIP did not provide protection for immigrants.

The government reopened after a short-term spending bill passed in the House and Senate and was signed by Trump in the evening of  Jan. 22.  

During a government shutdown, federal employees are classified as either “essential” or “nonessential.” Nonessential employees do not go to work and are not paid for the period of the shutdown. Essential employees must report to work but are not paid during the shutdown, although most are compensated accordingly once the government reopens.

The last government shutdown occurred in 2013 and had substantial effects. According to Vox, economic growth in the last quarter of 2013 was cut by 0.2 to 0.6 percent. In addition, tax refunds were delayed, the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program was unfunded, Environmental Protection Agency inspections were halted, the drug approvals were delayed for the Food and Drug Administration, the National Parks Service shut down resulting in millions of dollars lost in tourism and many science organizations shut down or lost funding. All of this happened from Oct. 1, 2013 to Oct.17, 2013, only 16 days.

In 2013, the impacted science organizations included the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The majority of employees at the NIH and the NSF were deemed nonessential, so grant reviews were halted and clinical trials stopped, and the CDC stopped monitoring disease outbreaks.

Despite nonessential employees not receiving pay, halting all this work does not actually save the government money during a shutdown. In 2013, 40 percent of government employees were classified as nonessential and went 16 days without pay. However, Congress ended up compensating them. This is in addition to costs associated with halting work at government agencies and organizations, particularly in the sciences.

“Without a resolution the federal scientific enterprise will come to a screeching halt, potentially adding millions of dollars in costs and months of delay to taxpayer-funded projects,” said Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

While the 2018 shutdown was too short to have the kind of effects seen in 2013, the potential for them was still there. The government approved funding only until Feb. 8 so if a spending bill is not passed by then the government could shut down again, leading to the detrimental effects seen in 2013. Between Jan. 31 and Feb. 8, Congress has only three working days because they will be on retreat for much of this time, so they are expected to pass another short-term bill until a bipartisan agreement on immigration can be made.

Photo Courtesy of Vice.com

Brianna Steiert

Brianna Steiert is a senior Oxbridge Molecular Biology major and mathematics minor. She serves as Features and Managing editors for the Hilltop Monitor.

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