What you need to know about a possible government shutdown
Could the government close next week, for the third time in three years? That’s a possibility as Congress nears a deadline to keep government open and doesn’t appear to have enough voice to do so. Here’s why, and what would happen if there was a shutdown.
What is a government shutdown?
This is what happens when Congress fails to promulgate annual expense bills on time, and government agencies run out of money to pay their employees and do jobs for the American people.
Congress approves the money for most of the federal government to function – this is the “stock market power” given to them in the Constitution. The federal government can only perform many of its functions – like food safety inspections or tax refunds – when Congress has authorized funds to do so.
The government’s fiscal year ends on September 30, which means Congress must approve new government funds by then or the government closes.
So will there be a government shutdown?
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill to keep government open until November, but all Republicans voted against it. We expect most Senate Republicans to vote against this Senate spending bill in a procedural vote on Monday, just days before a deadline that would trigger a shutdown. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has said he will obstruct this spending bill, which requires 60 votes to overcome.
The Senate is split 50-50, and there aren’t 10 Republicans who will support the fundraising bill that Senate Democrats plan to vote on in the next few days. The White House on Thursday asked federal agencies to start preparing for a shutdown.
Publicly, Democrats say they are staying the course, but privately, the Post reports, they admit they won’t win any Republican and are discussing ways around them to keep the government funded. Democratic aides and lawmakers insist there will be no shutdown amid the pandemic.
They only have a few days to figure out how to do this.
What does a government shutdown have to do with the debt ceiling?
This threat of closure concerns the debt ceiling.
At the same time that the government needs new funds to stay open, the government also needs Congress to approve the Treasury Department to borrow more money to pay its bills. (The government spends more than it cash.) If Congress doesn’t approve this by mid-October, the United States could default on its loans for the first time in its history.
Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Refuse to vote to raise the debt ceiling. They argue that because the Democrats are also trying to pass a massive $ 3.5 trillion bill to radically reshape the way the federal government works (there are currently several spending bills pending in Congress), the Democrats should themselves raise the debt ceiling.
This is an extraordinary position, given that the debt ceiling is normally a bipartisan vote and raising it today pays yesterday’s spending, including trillions of dollars added to the national debt by Republicans. under former President Donald Trump.
“It’s about fulfilling the fiscal responsibilities that the United States has already assumed, and to say that they think Democrats should do it themselves is a pretty remarkable move,” said Molly Reynolds, budget analyst. at the Brookings Institution.
The stakes are huge if the United States defaults and stops at around the same time. This could plunge the United States into an immediate recession and cost Americans billions in wealth and millions of jobs and take years, if not a generation, to recover – all at a time when the U.S. economy is still fragile as the pandemic continues.
In an attempt to push Senate Republicans back, Democrats tied the debt ceiling vote to a spending bill, which also includes billions for hurricanes and other natural disasters.
But the Republicans are not moving. “Do you think I’m bluffing?” McConnell said last week when Punchbowl News brought up the Democrats’ argument that raising the debt ceiling today is paying for Trump-era spending.
What happens in the event of a shutdown?
Many federal organizations do not have the money to do much of their regular programming. This manifests itself in various ways, such as:
Many federal employees would be put on leave, which means they won’t go to work and their pay is suspended. Government workers have used up their savings during past shutdowns to stay afloat.
Law enforcement, national security officials and the military would likely still function, but they would not be paid. Ditto for air traffic controllers and agents of the Transport Security Agency who screen passengers at airports. But after the last shutdown under former President Donald Trump, Congress passed a law that automatically guarantees back wages for federal workers once the government is back up and running.
It will be difficult to do a number of things that require the federal government, such as processing home or small business loan applications, applying for a passport, and conducting immigration court proceedings. Depending on how long it lasts, the federal safety net – like free school food stamps and lunches and even Social Security checks – could be affected.
Food safety inspections may cease.
There will also be untold and perhaps unknown ramifications, such as roads that go unrepaired because the Department of Transportation had to take a break to work on a closure plan, or what federally funded study on them. cancer treatments must stop, or what is common, unsafe baby equipment is not recalled?
In the event of a shutdown, presidents can make decisions about what is deemed essential to national health and safety and keep those programs ongoing. This can lead to inherently political decisions. During the shutdown under Trump, a number of pundits accused agencies of making decisions about what was “essential” that seemed intended to appease Republican-leaning voters, such as how hunters could still use public lands. . There is a law that is supposed to protect against overtly political decisions about what remains open, but no one has been prosecuted under it. Moreover, it is difficult to enforce if the government is closed.
This particular closure could be very large. In the past, closures only affected some agencies because Congress had already approved funding for other agencies. But this judgment would be complete, because Congress has not passed any funding bill. (Although some federal agencies, like the post office, operate independently of congressional funding, so you will still receive your mail.)
“It would really affect all of the agencies in one way or another,” Reynolds said. “It would be very disruptive to federal programs and people’s lives. And closures come with significant financial and economic costs. So this is not a good way to do fiscal policy.
How would a government shutdown affect its response to covid?
We don’t know, in part because there has never been a government shutdown during a pandemic. It is likely that Biden would prioritize government functions related to the covid response and deem these workers essential.
But even if a shutdown doesn’t abruptly end the government’s efforts to stem the spread of covid, raise people economically and get more people vaccinated, it will complicate them in ways that could cost lives. All aspects of government are more difficult to operate when there is a shutdown.
“The worst time in the world when we want to shut down government is in the midst of a pandemic where 140,000 people a day are infected and 2,000 people die every day,” said Anthony S. Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president. The Washington Post.
What happened the last time the government closed its doors?
The government closed for 35 days during the December 2018 to January 2019 vacation. It was the longest shutdown in U.S. history. Democrats held a majority in the House of Representatives after the midterm elections in 2018, when Trump said he was not signing a bipartisan short-term spending bill because he had no money for its border wall.
Democrats refused to provide the money for it. After hundreds of flights came to a standstill as air traffic controllers began calling in sick people on strike against work without being paid, Trump gave in and signed a spending bill without his demands.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the shutdown cost about $ 3 billion in economic activity. Some companies “will never recover” their lost revenue, the CBO reported. A majority of Americans blamed Trump and the Republicans in Congress for the shutdown.
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