US government shutdown

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Late last Friday night the US government went into shutdown for the first time since 2013 after Democrats and Republicans failed to reach a decision to extend government funding for another month. The Senate had voted 50-49 to approve a bill that would fund the government until 16 February, far below the 60-votes threshold required. On Saturday evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled a vote for Monday to reopen the government and fund it until at least 8 February, which was passed by Congress, bringing the shutdown to an end.

Both parties were quick to blame one another as soon as the confirmation of the shutdown had come through, with the president claiming that Democrats cared far more about protecting the rights of illegal immigrants than with the military or protection on the southern border. The Democrats, on the other hand, retorted that the president and his Republican party were simply not interested enough in the protection of 700,000 undocumented immigrants that face deportation as a result of Trump rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme. On Saturday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that Friday’s talks with the president were like “negotiating with Jell-O”. He also suggested that the small number of Republicans who disagree with the Trump administration aren’t doing enough to proclaim their feelings and instead are letting the government shut down. Schumer stated that the president was willing to allow for a four or five-day stopgap spending measure to give congressional leaders time to reach a conclusive deal, but then changed his mind. Chuck Schumer went into the meeting with the president with an open mind and with the hope of making a compromise, saying that the Democrats “were willing to fund the military at the highest levels in history, far above even his budget request”. Trump later took to Twitter, claiming that the Democrats wanted a shutdown and that they were holding the military hostage. Earlier on Friday, the president said that the meeting with Chuck Schumer was “excellent”, but evidently quickly changed his opinion.

The implications of a government shutdown can be damaging. This shutdown impacted mainly federal services, with hundreds of thousands of federal workers from Cabinet-level departments and in the departments of housing, education and commerce furloughed. Those in the Department of Defence whose jobs were deemed non-critical suffered the same fate. Many workers in the health, defence and transportation departments didn’t attend work for a temporary period of time, as well. People working in the military, air traffic control, the postal service and in lines of work that involve the concern of human safety remained in work. The military personnel get paid on the first and 15th of every month, so were not impacted by this particular shutdown. National parks and Smithsonian museums remained open; however, there were still closures in places, such as monuments like the Statue of Liberty. Services that required servicing and maintenance such as campsites closed due to the lay-off some national park staff. Many IRS workers were also furloughed, affecting those still trying to understand last year’s large tax overhaul.

Government shutdowns are not unheard of in the US. There have been 18 in total, eight of which have seen federal employees being furloughed. The most recent was in 2013, under the Obama administration. In the 16 days it lasted, 850,000 employees were off work at its peak time, it cost the government $2bn in lost productivity and had economic cost of around $24bn, an estimated $6bn a week. This led to slower productivity rates and a dip in GDP.  During the shutdown, Donald Trump blamed Barack Obama, insisting, “the problems start from the top and have to get solved from the top”.

Trump’s divisive rhetoric has seemingly come back to haunt him, as he enters his second year after a first of many broken promises and waves of controversy, especially surrounding potential Russian interference in the 2016 election with the knowledge of those in his campaign. 48% of the US public said they would blame the president and the Republicans for any shutdown that occurred. It’s obvious that this problem has sprung from the top, and if it springs from the top, that means, in the words of the current president, it has to get solved from the top.