A Washington Divided - The Longest Shutdown in U.S. History

By Bill Phan

On December 22nd, the United States federal government ceased funding for “non-essential discretionary federal programs”, triggering a partial government shutdown. This happens when a funding bill could not pass Congress, according to The Balance. Having been more prolonged than the 2013 shutdown, this one is now the longest partial government shutdown in American history.

Business Insider points to President Trump’s demand for border wall funding, wanting $5.7 billion for its construction. Democrats “insist they will allocate no money towards a wall”. After lengthy and unsavory talks between the President and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in which they reached an impasse over Trump's wall, the government shut down after Congress adjourned on December 22.

Using the Oval Office televised address as his platform, the President pleaded to the nation on Tuesday January 8, declaring, in his words, “a growing humanitarian and security crisis” and that a wall, something congressional Democrats would not allow to be built, is “the only solution” according to the Washington Post.

Contrary to the President’s harrowing view of crime and atrocity caused by illegal immigrants present at the border, interviews conducted by the Post with residents at the border paint a vastly different picture. Residents accused the wall as being costly and unnecessary, something that Bloomberg’s independent reporting backs up, showing a wall’s inability to stop people overstaying visas or seeking asylum legally.

Efforts by the White House to negotiate with moderate Democrats to splinter a united opposition in the House have largely been unsuccessful. The Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of legislators met without Nancy Pelosi at the White House. The invited legislators came out of the meeting, saying little more than calling it “productive”, according to Vox. Another attempt at meeting with the centrist-conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition failed in that none of the invitees showed up.

On January 19, the President offered a new negotiation for Democrats, extending protection for undocumented children, along with those fleeing from disaster sites, according to the Associated Press, if Democrats agree to the $5.7 billion wall funding figure.

Analysis showed that the shutdown could have far-reaching economic impacts. The Washington Post reported that the shutdown “is starting to shake sentiment” in the US economy, which it calls the “bedrock of the global economy”. Democrats, however, still don’t agree to negotiate unless Republicans and Trump open the government without wall funding. Senator Mike Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, told NBC that “The starting point of this negotiation ought to be reopening the government,” not “hostage taking.”

Notwithstanding the political fight in Washington, the shutdown’s effect on federal workers have already been seen. While the 800,000 furloughed federal workers are now guaranteed back pay when the government opens, many are still struggling to get by. A Coast Guard tip sheet analysed by ABC News found that advices in the tip sheet for furloughed employees during a shutdown included “babysitting, selling furniture or unwanted items, monetising hobbies, picking up tutoring or having a garage sale.” Many workers are also forced to eat from pantries as they are not able to afford groceries.

Not getting paid could simply mean cutting small corners for some workers, but could be even worse for others. 110,000 workers earn less than $50,000 annually, with half the furloughed workers not having a college application, according to the Washington Post. A lack of income could mean many things, ranging from not being able to afford groceries to missing a mortgage or student loan payment.

Not only are the workers themselves affected, the people that their jobs serve are hit as well. The Department of Housing and Urban Development provides low-income housing. It is among the many parts of the government affected, and if the shutdown goes on, critical maintenance and repairs could be missed; low-income families could even be threatened with evictions, according to Forbes.

Without funding including attempts to cut funding from the President and his party’s Congress, the Supplemental Nutrition Aid Program (SNAP for short), or more commonly known as food stamps, will run out of funding on March 1, according to the New York Times. Federal block grants handed out to states for child welfare and care are also not present, forcing states to use their own money, which might not be sufficient, the Times also reported.

The New York Times also reported loss of funding for housing repairs and housing voucher applications in states hit by past hurricanes, along with Puerto Rico.

While the question “who is responsible for the shutdown” is highly multifaceted and does not have a single answer, especially as each and every person has a different opinion, the general public seems to blame the President and the Republican Party for it. Polls conducted by Quinnipiac University, PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll, CNN, Pew Research Center and Washington Post/ABC News found that either a plurality or a majority of Americans surveyed either think that Trump and congressional Republicans are to blame for the shutdown, or that they are not handling it well.

Disregarding political turmoil and polls, the effects of the shutdown to people who devote their lives to public service are real and they are not pleasant. Voters will remember what happens as 2020 seems to be speeding towards each and every one of us from the horizon. Whether public opinion will affect the outcomes of the voting booth is yet to be seen, but at this rate, it’s hard to think that it won’t.