Last Friday at midnight, the bank ran dry for the United States government.
It was not because of economic trends or foreign manipulation, but because of the current dysfunction characterizing Washington D.C.
By any objective analysis of the facts, it is clear that Congressional Democrats are the cause of the mess this time around. Congressional Democrats have been demanding a full DACA bill immediately despite the program still lasting until March and giving them extensive time to negotiate and reach a deal with Republicans.
Yet Congressional Democrats rejected Congressional Republicans’ multiple attempts at a deal, including a 30-day temporary stop-gap measure that would have also provided funding for state child insurance programs, also known as “CHIP,” for an additional six years. The CHIP program expires in just weeks and could leave over 1.7 million children without healthcare.
Despite the stop-gap bill passing the House, it requires 60 votes in the Senate due to Senate rules. With Republicans only having a 51-seat majority in the Senate, Senate Democrats blocked the stop-gap measure that resulted in the shutdown we saw Friday.
This is the second time this decade that our government has shutdown. Last time, in October 2013, was when Congressional Republicans attempted to force a defunding of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
The 2013 standoff eventually ended in defeat for Republicans, with a funding being passed after two weeks that gave Republicans very little if anything at all.
During that shutdown House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi decried the GOP as “legislative arsonists” for shutting down the government over seeking a policy objective passed.
Senator Chuck Schumer, now Senate Minority Leader and the one who essentially led this year’s shutdown, said in 2013 “The basic line is: No matter how strongly one feels about an issue, you shouldn’t hold millions of people hostage. That’s what the other side is doing. That’s wrong and we can’t give in to that.”
It is ironic that now Congressional Democrats are doing exactly what they viciously criticized the GOP for doing in 2013, namely forcing a government shutdown for a policy priority they want passed outside of regular legislative proceedings.
The actual economic and social effects of a government shutdown are complex. For most Americans, they see little beyond the closure of some facilities and being unable to reach certain government services.
The core of the federal government, termed “essential,” remains open, including, unlike last time, national parks.
One of the most iconic images of the 2013 government shutdown was when a group of veterans who had traveled from across the nation to D.C. were refused entrance to the World War II memorial due to the shutdown. In contrast, during this saga Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke was found to be giving tours of the memorial himself to tourists on the morning after the shutdown.
Nonetheless, many federal workers will be without work or pay for as long as the shutdown lasts. Many federal employees are left to mill about D.C., unable to take substantive vacations because they will be called back the next day when the shutdown ends.
Thankfully, D.C. has many “government shutdown” happy hour specials that keep business booming and the city lively during this time.
On a more serious note, even though Congress has always passed a bill afterwards authorizing back pay for federal employees that have been furloughed, nonetheless for those who live paycheck-to-paycheck the shutdown may cause significant cash flow problems and financial stress.
Furthermore, the back pay is in fact a cost passed onto the American taxpayer as they will be paying employees for essentially not having done work during that time. In 2013 this tab came to about $2 billion for the over 850,000 workers furloughed.
Of special disgrace as well is that our military will not be receiving any pay either.
During the 2013 shutdown Congress passed a special bill right before the shutdown that provided the military with pay during the shutdown. However this year no such bill has been passed.
Government shutdowns are a recent incarnation in our hyperpolarized time. They did not happen during the 2000’s, happened during a particularly concentrated time in the 1990’s, and in the 1980’s only lasted for days if not just hours rather than now in weeks.
This time around it is clearly Congressional Democrats who have forced this shutdown despite there still being months to negotiate DACA, a temporary funding bill on the table that supports children’s health, and the deep cost to our military due to the not being paid.
It remains worth seeing whether the American people will take note of the price they are paying and the damage that those who promote a shutdown are causing.