If you have a pulse and an internet connection, you’ve probably heard about the government shutdown that went into place last Tuesday. After your pangs of panic, frustration, and/or fear, you might have taken a step back and asked yourself what exactly a government shutdown entails, or why our government has taken it upon themselves to have one.
One of the primary duties of Congress is to determine how the federal government spends its money on various employees, services, associations, etc. In recent years, the government has been passing stopgap budgets year to year until they could work out a suitable solution for all. This year, the House of Representatives, controlled by a Republican majority, refused to pass any budget that didn’t weaken, alter, or defund Obamacare. Their main objection is to the Affordable Care Act, which requires all Americans to have health insurance.
The Democrat-controlled Congress was equally staunch in its position to deny any alterations to the law, of which its larger mechanisms will eventually be enacted regardless. The House tried to pass a bill delaying Obamacare a year and repealing a tax on medical devices, and only if approved would they pass a budget. Unsurprisingly, the Senate rejected the bill, and since a budget could not be agreed upon, we now have a shutdown.
“Shutdown” is a bit of a misleading term, since there are several services and employees that remain in operation. Employees of the federal government that have been deemed essential are still working–these include those in national security, public safety, air traffic control, hospitals, embassies, emergency assistance, prisons, the postal service, the Federal Reserve, and most law enforcement officers. Social security checks, some veterans’ benefits, and pay for active-service military members will continue.
So what’s being closed down? A whole lot. Health services such as flu vaccinations will be put on hold. Housing authorities will stop receiving payments for loans. More than 400 national parks will be closed. Many food inspections by the FDA will cease. The Environmental Protection Agency will be shut down almost entirely. Housing authorities will be limited in their ability to issue loans. Several key services for veterans will stop, and if the shutdown lasts more than 2-3 weeks, disability claims and pension payments might cease as well. For a more complete list of the effects of the shutdown on federal agencies, go to this link. More than 800,000 federal workers will be sent home, while their employers are not legally obligated to reimburse them for missed work during the shutdown. Members of Congress, however, will still be paid during the stoppage, while their staffers will not.
The shutdown is expected to damage an economy that’s already on shaky footing. If resolved quickly, it’s likely to rebound fairly quickly, but economist Brian Kessler of Moody’s Analytics estimates that a 3-4 week shutdown would cost the economy $55 billion, a potentially crippling blow. In a country where a large portion of the population is still struggling for financial stability, the loss of many of these government services could prove disastrous for average citizens, those who rely on the government for healthcare, financial support, loans, or a steady income. The government is under no obligation to pass a budget by a certain date, meaning that members of the House and Congress can let the shutdown play out as long as they please, likely waiting for the other side to relent on some of its demands.
Obama’s presidency has already been riddled by bickering and deadlock between Democrats and Republicans, but never before has the inaction caused such an immediate threat to the public. It’s disheartening to see a government that favors spiteful inaction and resistance to cooperation at every turn–it’s even more demoralizing when it comes at a direct cost to the American public. President Obama has blasted House Republicans, and in particular the Tea Party, for their inaction. In an address Tuesday, he said, “One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government shut down major parts of the government, all because they didn’t like one law… They’ve shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans. In other words, they demanded ransom just for doing their job.” This type of finger pointing and heavily barbed criticism has plagued Obama’s presidency since the start, but in this case, even some Republicans, such as Rep. Peter King of New York, share Obama’s beliefs.
One of the most important and basic concepts of government is compromise, and a steadfast refusal from both sides to even consider it has been actively preventing progress for years, and has now come to a tangible head with the shutdown. Obamacare will be put into effect regardless of any political maneuverings on the part of the GOP–shutting down the federal government anyway reeks of cutting off the nose to spite the face. What the House and the Senate have to realize is that their squabbles have real, harmful effects on the very people they’ve been chosen to represent, and allowing these vendettas to escalate to the point of a shutdown is irresponsible at best and gravely dangerous at worst. Last Wednesday, Obama called together congressional leaders from both sides in an attempt to end the shutdown, yet both have refused to back down from their positions. There’s still a chance to correct the mistakes that have already occurred and reach some type of solution–let’s hope that for once both sides can work together and prevent the shutdown from reaching its most severe consequences.