• Nicholas Yum

What is a Government Shutdown?

As you know, the United States Government is currently in its longest shutdown ever. With only about 400,000 remaining active government workers being promised delayed compensation, the thousands of other government employees are left with nothing. Multiple government departments are completely closed while agencies that are considered “essential” like the Department of Homeland Security are still running, albeit with limited functionality. The negative effects of this particular extended shutdown are beginning to trickle down to the general public.


But, how did we even get in this troubling position?


First of all, we have to understand the United States’ “Appropriations Bill”.

For each fiscal year, the United States Congress must pass a bill which sets the Federal government’s budget for the year and allocates funds to each individual sector of the government. Both the House of Representatives and Senate must simultaneously approve a budget before the President can sign the bill into law. In cases where the President refuses to sign a bill passed by Congress or when Congress fails to get a bill passed before the deadline, a government shutdown will occur as no money can be allocated for any spending. This causes the aforementioned closure of any inessential or unfunded segments of the government. Thankfully, about ¾ of our current government is funded by existing legislation which allows those agencies to stay operational. Even as employees still report to work, none of them will be paid until the government reopens.


Well, why did the government shut down this time?


The heavily sensationalized, publicized, and criticized debate over the practicality and necessity of a southern border wall precipitated the failure to pass a budget for the 2019 fiscal year. Republican President Donald Trump’s hardline support for the funding of a $5.7  billion steel-slat barrier has been met with heavy resistance from the Democratic party. Now, a whole month since the beginning of the shutdown, Trump has begun a push for action. Prominent Democrats such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have adamantly rejected the President’s proposals and instead have opted to challenged Trump to a staring contest of sorts. Neither side has blinked and without change, the government shutdown has no end in sight.


So, what parts of the government are still open?


The twelve main departments of the government which still remain operative are: the departments of State, Commerce, Homeland Security, Justice, Agriculture, Urban Development, Transportation, Interior, Treasury, the Securities and Exchange Commission, Food and Drug Administration, and Administration of the U.S. Courts.


Each is partially exempt from the government’s shutdown and will remain open with only its primary functions being subsidized.


These particular departments are considered essential to operate the nation as they deal with priorities such as national security, public safety, and business.


Well, how does the shutdown affect the people?


Any and all ulterior functions of the main departments are not being performed. This has had an adverse effect on the economy, the justice system, transportation, and more.


Export licenses cannot be given to shipping companies by the Department of Commerce (DOC). As a result, companies without licenses are not permitted to operate causing a disruption in international trade.


The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) is being affected by worker strikes regarding the lack of timely paymentsll. Since the shutdown has begun, airport efficiency as a whole has decreased. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is now short-handed and dealing with a logjam on the ground and in the skies.


All civil court cases have been postponed by the Department of Justice (DOJ). That means an already overwhelmed civilian court system is closed, including all immigration courts which does not bode well for hopeful applicants.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has suspended most of its routine food safety inspections leading to health concerns. Additionally, the approval processes of new prescription drugs have been interrupted, causing disruptions in the pharmaceutical industry.


The Initial Public Offering (IPO) segment of the stock market is taking a hit from the Securities and Exchange Commission's partial closure. An IPO is the launch of a company’s stock on the stock market. It is the first opportunity for members of the public to purchase shares of the company. In what has been a recently red-hot IPO market for technology companies, the shutdown has disrupted the flow of new offerings and has slowed down the market entirely.

What may be most detrimental to the average American is the delay of tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Contractors will not be providing the IRS with software to process tax returns for early filers, so all tax returns will be delayed until the government reopens.


Now, the big question is: What steps need to be taken before the government can reopen?


The White House has actually already been taking steps to quietly reopen parts of the government one by one. By redefining and stretching which parts of are considered “essential”, more and more agencies are being reopened. Even though this is far from an actual government reopening, it’s a start.


What really needs to happen is compromise. Democracy is the applied principles of compromise, the sharing and combining of ideas and the freedom to choose the path that is best for our nation. America has always been a nation built on the basis compromise with the gleaming exception being the Civil War. As divided as our nation may be, both Democrats and Republicans would surely favor concession to secession.


That is something I have faith in. I have faith in our leaders to compromise. That is something we’ve ignored in this nation for far too long. While each party pushes their own agenda, the regular people of America are being drawn into the fray. Our Founding Fathers created this nation to be a just society. And, although I don’t expect everyone to suddenly have a change of heart, the ending of this ugly government shutdown would be a great first step in reforming our democracy.


After all, the preamble to our Constitution reads:


“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”


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