At the beginning of a new year, history is being made. At the time of writing this article, the United States government is in the midst of the longest federal funding gap in its history.
The government has been without an operating budget since Dec. 22, 2018. To fully understand the implications and causes of the shutdown, it is important to first understand the history of federal funding gaps, or government shutdowns.
The United States government has experienced 21 gaps in funding with the first occurring in 1976. The previous record for a federal shutdown is 21 days, which happened under former President Bill Clinton in 1995.
Before the late 70s, the U.S. government passed appropriations bills which funded the government without a hitch. That precedent was changed by former President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Reagan realized that the government budget could be held as a bargaining chip to advocate for unpopular policies. Reagan would veto budgets that contained measures he disagreed with, which typically pressured Congress into including funding for measures he wanted. This tactic was effective because shutting down the federal government, even one agency, costs millions of dollars and prevents citizens from receiving government services.
In the 80s and 90s, government shutdowns rarely lasted more than a day. Even these short-term shutdowns cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
In 1995, former President Bill Clinton clashed with Republican leadership over funding for Medicare. In 2013, former President Barack Obama clashed with Republican leadership over funding for Obamacare. In recent years, government shutdowns have become more common as political leaders have become more willing to subvert common legislative process to force favorable legislative outcomes.
Shutdowns typically occur when a president disagrees with a funding bill that comes from the House or the Senate. These disagreements rarely happen when the House, Senate and president are all from the same party.
This shutdown is no different. The conflict is between Trump and House Democrats. After the midterm elections, the House held a Democratic majority. The previously-passed appropriations bill ran out on Dec. 22, 2018, which meant that the House and Senate needed to pass a budget by that time.
Republicans, led by Trump, originally wanted funding for a border wall between Mexico and the United States. Democrats were unwilling to grant funding for this wall and advocated for a different immigration solution. This was the origin of the conflict that has shut down the U.S. government for 30-plus days.
Since the original conflict, a few Republican lawmakers have sought compromise with Democratic lawmakers, but Trump has made it clear that border wall funding will not be compromised. This inability to compromise has stretched out the shutdown.
Recently, Trump has offered a deal to Democrats: the authorization of DACA in exchange for border wall funding. It may be too early to tell, but Democratic lawmakers appear to see this as too small a concession to be worth making a deal.
It is typical for Congress to go back and forth on legislation, but this debate is intensified due to its consequences for each day a compromise is not reached.
The federal government does not shut down completely. Most federal employees are still required to show up to work. However, these employees are operating without pay until the government is funded.
The employees will be paid eventually, but many federal workers work paycheck to paycheck, which has made many of them unable to pay rent or afford living expenses. Federal workers in danger of being evicted have taken to protesting in the Hart Senate Office Building.
In addition to working without pay, many of the services carried out by federal workers are not accomplished when the government is not funded. These workers include TSA agents, FDA workers, pollution inspectors, national park workers, immigration case workers, emergency responders and many others.
The government shutdown will continue until a compromise is reached between Democrats and Republicans. It all depends on how long Trump, the Republicans and the Democrats are willing to hold the federal government hostage to accomplish their preferred immigration policy.