Shutdown: When the Government Stops Operating

Claire Ho ‘20

Just last Friday, the longest government shutdown in history ended. The record-breaking 35-day shutdown saw the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, having begun on December 22th, 2018, and having ended recently on January 25th, 2019.


The shutdown, which affected a quarter of the federal government, saw its beginning when the president had a meeting with then-minority leader of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, both of the Democratic Party. During the meeting, President Trump threatened a federal government shutdown should Democrats in Congress refuse to allocate $5.7 billion for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Pelosi and Schumer informed Trump that his proposed border wall lacked support in Congress, even in the then-Republican-controlled House.


In an attempt to avert an impending shutdown, the Senate Majority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell proposed a short-term spending bill that would fund the government through the beginning of 2019. It quickly cleared the Senate, continuing to the House. The next day, the short-term spending bill saw the addition of $5.7 billion for the border wall after Trump’s announcement that he would not approve the bill because it did not include border wall funds. The revised bill saw its approval in the House that same day by a vote of 217-185, ultimately getting sent back to the Senate for another vote afterward.


After trying to negotiate on the House-modified bill, the Senate was ultimately unable to muster up the required number of votes to pass it, ultimately leading to the government shutdown beginning at midnight on December 22nd, 2018. The beginning of the shutdown prompted a frantic round of talks between lawmakers, but to no avail.


On the second day of the new year, Democratic Party leaders Pelosi and Schumer met with the president, a meeting that saw no results in trying to end the shutdown. However, the next day, a shift in power occurred with the official swearing-in of new members of Congress, cementing Democratic control of the House of Representatives. The day concluded with the passage of two measures that would have reopened the government, postponing the border wall funding discussion until February and effectively extending the negotiation period for one more month. Despite lawmakers’ efforts, the measures did not pass the president, owing to their exclusion of border wall funds.


Another meeting with Democratic Party leaders and the president on January 4th yielded his threat to keep the shutdown going for potentially years or to declare a national state of emergency to force allocation of $5.7 billion in funding for the border wall, stating that the maintenance of the country’s security would justify it. He justified this viewpoint four days later on January 8th, during his first formal address from the Oval Office, arguing that his proposed border wall would be needed to keep the country safe. His point that illegal immigrants caused a crime problem, among others, prompted a televised response from Schumer and Pelosi, who countered that Trump was employing fear to try to sway support to his border wall.


The next day, January 9th, saw yet another failed negotiation–after Pelosi stated that she would not support the border wall, the president saw reason enough to stop the meeting, walking out of the session, according to Democratic Party lawmakers. Republican Party lawmakers offered a different version of events, stating that negotiations for that day had ended because the Democrats present had refused to offer a counterplan to reopen the government, and that Trump had offered to reopen it right away, on the condition that there would be $5.7 billion allocated for the border wall.


Following the disastrous end to that meeting, the next day saw the president paying a visit to McAllen, Texas, at the southern border of the U.S., after affirming his intent to declare a national emergency. During the duration of the president’s visit, the House managed to pass measures to reopen the Departments of Agriculture, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and the Treasury, as well as the Internal Revenue Service, or IRS. However, ultimately, these measures did not make it into law following the president’s reiteration that he would would veto any bill that did not include provisions for border wall funding.


January 16th, about a week later, saw a major class between Pelosi and Trump when the latter asked the president to reschedule his State of the Union address, or instead to deliver a written version, on the grounds that its designation as a “National Special Security Event” would have barred it from taking place, as it would have been the responsibility of the Secret Service, which, as a part of the Department of Homeland Security, was, at the time, affected by the shutdown. Pelosi’s move saw criticism by Republicans in Congress, who saw it as a power play. Trump hit back the next day by canceling the military plane that would have flown Pelosi overseas for a seven-day trip to Belgium, Egypt, and Afghanistan, justifying it on the grounds that Pelosi would have been more valuable present in Washington, for the purpose of negotiating to end the shutdown.


Two days later, on January 19th, the president offered a compromise, proposing the provision of three-year work permits for certain migrants, in exchange receiving some border wall funds. However, Democrats in Congress rejected the offer on the grounds that it would still have resulted in a wall and omitted permanent protections for immigrants that fall under DACA or some temporary protected status–in short, that it was not enough.


A couple of days later saw the official postponement of the State of the Union address on January 23rd, when the President ceded to Pelosi’s request, concluding that the House floor would have been the only appropriate place for the address. His announcement followed a letter from Pelosi, which stated that the House would not allow him to hold the address there, as is done by tradition.


Following the Pelosi-Trump State of the Union address dispute, two bills were presented to the Senate. One of the bills, originated by the Republican Party, allocated $5.7 billion in border wall funding, as well as outlining some of the concessions Trump had offered to congressional Democrats. The second was originated by the Democratic Party, which notably omitted border wall funding. At the time, the general goal had been to fund the government through February 15th, a temporary measure.


Finally, the next day, the shutdown, which had at that point lasted a record-breaking 35 days, saw an end with Trump’s announcement that a deal to reopen the government had been reached. Under the deal, the government will be reopen for three weeks, ensuring that government workers will be paid, and lawmakers will be under a deadline to reach a deal on border security. The bill funds the government through February 15th, and had been approved by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by Trump late January 25th. Many remain doubtful about the potential productivity of this negotiation period; Alice Wu ‘20 worries that “while the president has opened up the government temporarily to stimulate negotiations, it’s only for three weeks…Frankly, I don’t think that’s enough time for anything productive to happen.”


The deal brings much-needed relief to an estimated 800,000 government employees affected by the shutdown–in total, about 380,000 workers have been furloughed and 420,000 forced to work without pay. Jason Zhang ‘19 expresses his opinion on the furloughed workers and the border wall, stating that “It was such a disgrace…to hold the livelihoods of over 800,000 government workers hostage over the funding of [the]…border wall.” He concludes that “We need to…go back to the days in which the government was supposed to be ‘of the people, by the people, for the people.’”


Furloughed workers, who have missed one full monthly payment cycle, have found themselves forced to apply for unemployment assistance and food stamps in order to stay afloat without completely depleting their savings, as well as to delay credit card and mortgage payments. However, even unemployment applications are affected by the shutdown–the Department of the Treasury, which processes unemployment claims, is shut down.


On a broader scale, estimates of the shutdown’s impact range as high as $11 billion lost from the economy, including $3 billion that cannot be gained back. Contributing factors to this loss consist of the loss of federal workers’ contributions to the country’s gross domestic product, or GDP, the delay in government spending as pertaining to goods and services, and the overall reduction of goods and services in the economy.


However, the shutdown may have had far more severe effects on the economy, which have yet to be estimated. In the immediately post-shutdown days, questions emerge and remain to be answered–about the full extent of its effects on the economy, its ramifications in Congress, the consequences that federally employed workers have yet to suffer, and the most pressing of all–the fate of the government and President Trump’s proposed border wall come February 15th.