by Timothy Mattackal
The United States government will shut down at midnight on Friday unless a continuing resolution is passed to fund the budget. At the moment, the passage of such a bill seems unlikely as Republicans and Democrats have failed to come to terms over the details of a funding bill. If it occurs, this will be the second time the government has shut down this decade, with the previous occasion being in 2013, and the eighteenth instance of a shut down since 1974.
Republicans hold majorities in both the House and Senate, but they require sixty votes to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government in the Senate. This would necessitate at least eight Democrats crossing over to support the fifty-two Senate Republicans in supporting their funding bill. Dr. Marc Clauson, Professor of History and Law in Cedarville University’s History and Government Department, talks about the events which have brought us to this point.
“So the Republicans have said Democrats, we pretty much give you everything you want, including a DACA deal, and the democrats have so far said that they will not budge. It takes sixty votes to vote for the continuing resolution and there are a couple Republicans too who have said they will not vote for this. So if they can’t get a vote on it, technically speaking the government is not spending money normally now.”
Although this may sound ominous, Clauson specifies that the effects of a shutdown may not be very far-reaching.
“What really happens is that non-essential personnel are sent home. Essential personnel still come into work. All checks are still written and sent to recipients, welfare, social security, Medicare, Medicaid. They receive all of those. Nothing stops with regard to essential services.”
Dr. Bert Wheeler, Professor of Economics in the School of Business Administration at Cedarville, also says that the impacts of a shutdown will likely be minimal. He specifies that although some government employees will be placed on temporary furlough while the shutdown is in place, they will still be paid back for that time once a resolution to fund the government is passed.
“Only non-essential services are shut down. That may entail quite a few individuals, maybe several hundred thousand. They will still be paid, it may be after the fact though,” says Wheeler.
Wheeler says that one area where the effects of a shutdown could be felt more acutely is in the tourism industry as national parks may be forced to close while the impasse continues in Washington.
“I think the primary impact would be in places where national parks are currently being visited a lot so there’s a significant tourism impact.”
Despite this, there is still the opportunity for such locations to remain open, especially if their closing would result in significant loss of revenue to the states.
“States where that’s likely to occur will oftentimes fund the national parks themselves during the down period so the actual economic effects of this may be very limited.”
Both Wheeler and Clauson agree that the shutdown is a political game with both sides maneuvering to gain the upper hand.
“This is a political game that we’re playing, not an economic game. If president Trump believes it’s in his benefit to try to say that the democrats caused the shutdown by failing to come to a deal on immigration reform or continuing to fight or not work with him, then he may try that,” says Wheeler.
Clauson also says that “the Republicans think they can shift the blame to the Democrats because they have said, we’ve given you everything you’ve asked for from us and you still won’t vote for it. The democrats may believe that by refusing to vote for the bill they can shift the blame to the Republicans.”
One of the issues which the budget debate hinges on is a bill to reinstitute President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program which provided protection for specific groups of undocumented immigrants. President Trump rescinded DACA in September, sending lawmakers scrambling to write legislation to re-implement the program before the expiration date in March. Democrats are adamant that a DACA bill be passed to go along with the spending bill, resulting in the standoff which has brought the government to the brink of a shutdown.
“I think both sides want a deal on DACA. I believe both sides think that’s the most compassionate and best thing to do in this situation,” says Clauson.
Despite this, President Trump has opposed several bipartisan proposals which would have solved this problem. Clauson says that he is unlikely to budge on this issue unless it is included with some of his own immigration policy goals.
“The Democrats want the dreamers to be able to stay and he [Trump] seems to be amenable to that, but he also wants a merit based immigration system. One that eliminates chain immigration, one that gives him money for a secure border. Donald Trump has shown signs of being willing to compromise when he’s up against the wall but in this case, I think he’s pretty strong about it.”
Despite these roadblocks, Wheeler poses the problem as a result of the nature of our political system and believes that it will be rectified before it causes substantial harm.
“It is part of a somewhat dysfunctional and complex government system that we have right now,” says Wheeler. “If it [the shutdown] went into months it would be very problematic. But simply the nature of it being problematic and the costs being so high, our politicians will not allow it to happen. They can make a deal anytime they want to so they won’t do anything that’s harmful to their reelection.”
Clauson leaves us with a piece of advice.
“Don’t panic,” he says.
Whatever happens in the Senate at midnight on Friday, life should not be substantially different for the average American when they wake up on Saturday.