Partisan Squabbling Leads to Shutdown

Steven Bishop (11th), Reporter

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The cause of the recent government shutdown that started on January 20, 2018 and lasted a total of two days was caused by dispute. Who would have thought that could happen in a profession where everyone’s ego is the size of the desk and chair they sit and swivel at in their government funded offices while they receive a government funded salary? Quite peculiar.

To be a tad more serious, the shutdown stemmed from the disagreement on how the two major political parties in Congress would resolve the issue of the recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order that President Obama signed into existence when he was still in office and the same one that was recently revoked by now President Trump. DACA is for illegal immigrants who were brought to the US by their parents or guardians at the time when they were too young to make the decision themselves. As children they had close to zero ability to control where they went or happened to end up as they immigrated from their country of origin to the United States.

Democrats wanted to add onto the spending bill legislation that would provide benefits for the recipients of DACA because they viewed that Republicans would not address the issue otherwise. Republicans wanted to deal with the topic in an immigration bill that would be separate from the funding of the government. 

Several rather useless attempts were made to resolve the problem. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, tried conjuring a deal but eventually was blocked by his own party. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and his Chief of Staff Mike Lynch met with President Trump and his Chief of Staff John Kelly to find common ground on DACA legislation but the meeting ended after the President backed away when a deal was close to being made.

Another cause of the shutdown was disagreements on spending for the government itself. Democrats and Republicans both agreed that the budgets on defense and domestic spending needed to be increased. However, the Democrats thought the increases should have been equal. Republicans wanted the defense budget to consume more money than the domestic increases would have been alloted.

With the semantics and background information on grown adults squabbling about budgets and immigrant rights out of the way, what exactly is a government shutdown? The term is severely misleading. It makes its seem as if the White House itself is going to be boarded up and a for-sale sign will inevitably be stuck in the unmown lawn by a shadowy real estate company. A government shutdown is the vast decrease or lack of spending of nonessential departments because Congress did not fund the spending bill the nonessential departments needed funding to cover their costs. No department is closed entirely but a vast portion of the workers are furloughed (sent home without pay).

Essential departments and services remain open because it would be a hazard to close them or they receive funding from the government in other ways besides the spending bill. These include Amtrak, Federal courts and prisons, the Postal Service, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and yes even Congress.

The departments that make up the executive branch receive the most punishment from the shutdown. The proceeding list of department names are in order of how many people they employ with the percentages representing how much of their staff was furloughed during the shutdown: Department of Defense 50%, Department of Veterans Affairs 4%, Department of Homeland Security 13%, Department of Justice 17%, Department of Treasury 83%, Department of Agriculture 78%, Department of Health and Human Services 50%, Department of the Interior 76%, Department of Transportation 36%, Department of Commerce 87%, Department of Labor 83%, Department of Energy 73%, Environmental Protection Agency 95%, Department of Housing and Urban Development 96%, and the Department of Education 95%. The Department of State has reserved funds that can cover its operating costs for little over a year and was not affected by the shutdown in any major capacity.

The shutdown occurred because Congress did not create a proper spending bill that would last until the next fiscal year. The fiscal year starts at the end of September. The only other option is to create a short term solution called a continuing funding resolution. It acts like a funding bill but only last for normally a few months instead of a full year. Since Congress did not pass the spending bill last September they have been sing continuing funding resolution ever since. It only happens that the last one they tried to pass crashed and burned like a paper airplane flying into a furnace that does not actually warm anything. Congress in fact has not passed a spending bill in five years and has passed fifteen continuing funding resolutions. Que the groan of disappointment.

While the subject of unnecessary failure is still fresh, the government has in fact shutdown a total of nineteen times including the most recent blockhead fiasco. The first occurred in 1976 when President Ford vetoed a funding bill for certain executive departments. Congress could then not come up with a continuing resolution until eleven days into the shutdown. There were five more that decade, eight in the 80’s, three in the 90’s, none in the 2000’s, and now a total of two so far in the 2010’s. The last shutdown was caused by disagreement over Obamacare and lasted seventeen days.

Another shutdown could be coming soon if another continuing funding resolution is not passed. Despite the looming presence this obstacle is casting over the Federal Government as a whole a number of jabs and not-so-blunt comments are still being exchanged. During his State of the Union Address on January 30, President Trump was booed by Democrats when he stated, “Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer advised the Democrats against any kind of acknowledgement that Trump was pinching a nerve but a sore comment on the fresh wound of the immigration based dispute of the past months that was a major cause of the government shutdown unleashed a torrent of antipathy.

And this leads perfectly to the elephant/donkey in the room that needs to be addressed. The solution to preventing future shutdowns is straightforward and simple. Federal legislators must stop using the topic of government funding as springboard and anchor for policies they either love or disdain. They need to bar adding legislation that is unnecessary or causes too much dispute onto necessary legislation. The federal government cannot stay afloat if the captain watches his sailors commence in a slap fight, proceed to attempt to resolve the situation, and then backs away because he does not want to anger his dry cleaner by getting his clothes wet and dirtied. And why are the sailors fighting in the first place? Easy. They cannot agree on a path that will take them to the same destination. They wear the same clothes, talk and walk alike, but absolutely cannot if their lives depended on it uniformly move the rudder together.

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