In the fall, I wrote an article reflecting on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination process and previous nomination battles in the past couple of years. The infusion of partisan politics into a supposedly non-partisan process raised red flags about the integrity of our democratic processes. Now it’s time for an unexpected part two of the series, but this time our economy is under threat in a seemingly annual melee of partisan politics. We reflect on the largest government shutdown in history.
The government shutdown, lasting 35 days, furloughed employees in non-vital sectors and forced vital employees to work without pay. According to Time magazine, approximately 800,000 workers were affected in total, with around 10,000 contracted workers who will not get their pay back. The total cost of the shutdown? According to an analysis from S&P Global Ratings, our economy lost over $6 billion. How did this government shutdown even start?
The answer lies in the annual budget process. The budget is drafted, proposed to Congress, and if there’s a disagreement within Congress or if the President fails to approve the budget, the government is either partially or fully shut down due to a lack of funds to run certain departments, agencies, and programs. The most recent government shutdown was initiated when President Trump failed to approve Congress’ budget due to a lack of funding for a border wall, a $5.7 billion request. Intriguingly, the Republican-controlled Senate caused the shutdown, despite the President and the Senate being aligned at the time.
While a government shutdown is a necessary tool if there’s a lack of funding, a shutdown should not be able to occur if the only funding disagreement is over an issue not pertaining to the departments affected by the shutdown. If the government disagrees on whether or not to fund a border wall, the President should not be able to institute a shutdown affecting the National Park Service or the Transportation Security Authority. This is especially the case if the cost of a shutdown is greater than the scope of the funding disagreement, as is the case with the most recent shutdown. The political standoff that causes our government shutdowns would be the thing of the past if funding propositions were isolated in a series of bills instead of drafted all at once.
On January 25, President Trump introduced an interim spending bill to reopen the government, allowing government employees to receive their pay, but the government will likely close again on February 15th if an agreement on border wall funds cannot be reached.