If 2017 started off with a bang, then 2018 is off to a bit slower of a start. While most people were enjoying the weekend, Congress was busy furiously trying to push forward a temporary spending bill that would keep the government open for a few more weeks. Unfortunately, both sides weren’t able to resolve their differences, and the government shut down on Saturday, January 20. While government shutdowns are never a good thing, this is far from the first time this has happened, and this one was resolved within a few days.
While ominous sounding, everyday life of most Americans (aside from government workers, many of whom are told to not come in for work) generally won’t be affected in any meaningful way, at least for long. However, in the rare occasions that they continue for long periods of time, the economic consequences can be meaningful and can set the economy back billions of dollars due to lost productivity, unpaid employees and third-party contracts.
Important functions such as the TSA, FBI, and Transportation continue to function, as well as the military and Coast Guard. Daily services such as the USPS and some student financial aid workers are funded. Interestingly enough, Congress and other lawmakers responsible for shutdowns are still paid while they hammer out an agreement. Other than that, life continues for most people.
On the other hand, if you try to utilize a service that is funded by some of the money that is being withheld, it can be frustrating. If you try to visit a national park such as Yosemite, or a national monument, you will generally be turned away. Applications for government documents such as passports may be delayed or won’t even go through.
Ellen Burgeson, a junior studying psychology wasn’t too pleased with the idea. “One of my goals is to visit all the national parks in the US, and I’m picturing myself showing up after a long drive one of these weekends and being turned away.”
Fortunately, this shutdown was different from the one that occurred in 2013. This is due to changes that were made in the past several years since that one, which saw barricades going up across most national monuments in DC. This time, agencies were allowed to utilize leftover funding.
“It’s going to be different than it was in 2013, as we work to keep more of these agencies open,” said Mick Mulvaney, the director of Office of Management and Budget.
The whole reason the government has these “pauses” is due to a policy that was enacted back in 1974 called the Congressional Budget Act. This law essentially gave more power to Congress to enact a budget and reduced the President's ability to withhold funding. This has, in turn, created a sort of countdown, where Congress must come together and agree on a budget, else the government shuts down until a new one can be agreed upon.
Fortunately, due to large bipartisan support for a new spending bill, and few within Congress wanting to slow down the economy longer than it had to, the government reopened without causing much of the damage that previous ones had. However, unless Congress can resolve its problems in the future without bipartisan grandstanding, chances are shutdowns will start to become a way of life for America.
Jesse Shoghi is a junior studying computer science.