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The US Government Shutdown

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The ultimate deal maker President Trump celebrated his first year in Oval office with shutdown, making him probably the only president in US history to do so. The rift in the US Senate over spending bill resulted in government shutdown on January 20, 2018, which did spoil Trump’s first year celebrations. The government shutdown has become almost a regular feature in the US as shutdowns are not anything new. This has been the 19th shutdown since 1976. The longest shutdown occurred from December 1995 into January 1996 under Bill Clinton administration and spanned 21 days. Ronald Reagan faced the most number of shutdowns, total eight, during his presidency.

The partial and completely avoidable shutdown of the US government under Trump has ended quickly, as Democrat lawmakers softened their positions and agreed to trust Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell over issue of dreamers. The bill needed 60 votes out of 100-member senate but it could get only 50. President Trump placed the entire blame on Democrats which though seemed convenient, but it was just not factual. Disputes over the status of persons affected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and funding for Mexico-US border wall were the main reasons for shutdown. President Trump was criticized by the Democrats that he intended to bring a bill that was for political leverage only. This is somehow right as during his election speeches, he had talked about building a huge wall along the Mexican border and now wanted funding for that in the bill.

The US Congress is responsible for budget-making to run the wheels of government and no law can be made without the approval of both the Houses. In the previous shutdown in 2013, President Obama’s party, Democratic, had the majority in Senate while the Republicans had the majority in the House. The rift between both houses had not been resolved over health care, known as Obama Care bill and the entire government crumbled to shutdown. The republicans did not seem to be in favour of this law while democrats were bent upon making it the part of their budget. But this time the US shutdown is both unique and interesting as both the Houses and White House are controlled by the Republicans and still they were not able to legislate. It is Trump’s shutdown and Republicans may bear the brunt of political damage in upcoming US Senate elections, which are due in November 2018.

The US shutdown did not mean closure of all departments as almost all activities of the essential organs of the US government including national security, defence, department of homeland security, and emergency continued after shutdown. Police, military, and the US missions/embassies abroad were hardly affected. But the performance of the embassies abroad would have been affected as there might have been delays in Visas processing, etc, if the shutdown had prolonged for more days. Again it was feared that though US army had gone un-affected by the current shutdown, but it might have significantly harm day-to-day operations coupled with undermining intelligence agencies’ ability to monitor threats. Funds for war in Afghanistan and US fight against Islamic State (IS) did not get affected either.

In the US, there are around 2.2 million of federal employees whereas 0.8 million non-essential workforce was believed to be affected by the shutdown and go on furlough. These non-essential employees are generally sent on leave till the shutdown ends. Previously; there was no such bar on those non-essentials as before the 1980s, if Congress could not pass a budget, federal employees continued operating as usual, even while waiting for a spending bill to pass. Once it did, that bill would retroactively fund the spending gap. But in 1980, Jimmy Carter’s last year as President, the then-attorney general Benjamin Civiletti issued a legal opinion saying government work cannot continue until Congress agrees to fund it. Civiletti later clarified the law to mean only “essential” government services could continue without a spending bill.

The shutdown season is not good for foreign tourists in the US as most of the zoos, museums, national parks, and national monuments remain closed due to those non-essential people not been able to be on duty. Also, the shutdown affects the US economy as it is obvious if people don’t get paid, there would be sharp decline in their buying power coupled with inability of the people to pay their bills including credit cards. The real problem of the US economy is often felt by the duration of any shutdown as this determines the actual effects, if any. If the shutdown continues for a longer time, there is every possibility that some minor tremors may be felt in international economy too.

Article originally published in Regional Rapport on January 29, 2018.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.

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