The government shutdown was historic, inconvenient and avoidable.
On January 20 at 12:00:01 a.m., the first government shutdown of 2018 was initiated. A disagreement over what to do regarding immigration in the Senate triggered the shutdown, which lasted three days.
This is the second shutdown in approximately five years. The previous shutdown occurred under the Obama Administration and lasted from October 1 to October 17, 2013. During that time, nonessential government offices were temporarily shut down. Well over 750,000 federal employees were furloughed and 1.2 million were required to work, but without the certainty their wages would be paid, although traditionally they were eventually remunerated for their work. The shutdown of 2013 was the third-longest in US history.
Due to the constitutional separation of powers, Congress has the sole authority to make decisions regarding the appropriation of government funds. As with many pieces of legislation, a bill, specifically the Appropriation Bill, must be initiated in the House of Representatives. Upon being ratified, the bill moves to the Senate floor where it must be voted upon before it moves to the White House, where the President must sign or veto the bill.
What does a government shutdown mean? Congress has not reached an agreement on how to appropriate funds for the upcoming fiscal period. National parks, monuments and museums in Washington, D.C., are shut down. Additionally, paperwork in the IRS, FHA and Labor Department becomes delayed, and those offices become backlogged. However, essential functions, such as defense, public safety, medical care and the postal service, do not cease operations.
According to the Congressional Research Service, there have been 12 government shutdowns since 1981, the longest being 21 days and the shortest lasting a mere 24 hours. Prior to 1981, there was no such thing as a government shutdown. The phrase was coined by former Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti. He determined that government work must cease until Congress arrives at an agreement on how they will fund the government. Interestingly enough, under the Antideficiency Act, a government employee can be fined or imprisoned for working pro bono during a shutdown.
In 2018, the bill did not make it past the Senate floor due to disagreements about how to handle the hotly contested Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and whether to appropriate funds to construct a border wall. It began when the Senate refused to overcome a filibuster initiated by Democrats on continuing a temporary funding bill. Additionally, the Senate missed critical points at which they should have agreed on a budget. To overcome the filibuster, a supermajority of the Senate is necessary. Although the government budget from the previous year expired in October, there have been three continuing resolutions that have funded the government until now.
On January 22, the Senate voted on a resolution, and the bill passed with an 81 – 18 majority. The bill was quickly sent to President Trump for his approval. As of January 22, the measure passed under the auspices that Congress will work to find a solution to DACA and immigration. The government is temporarily funded until February 8, when another shutdown is possible.