The Government Shutdown Explained

By Solomon K.

     It’s not every day you hear the words “your government has shut down.” In fact, many of us have never heard those words in our entire lives. The last time the government shut down, nearly seventeen years ago, our national debt was only five trillion dollars, OJ Simpson had just been found not guilty, and Bill Clinton was still in office. The 1996 shutdown was due to a disagreement over President Clinton’s proposed budget. Republicans thought President Clinton’s budget was going to create a deficit, whereas Clinton and the Democrats thought it would balance the budget and bring the national debt under control. This time, however, the situation not nearly so simple.

     The roots of the 2013 shutdown can be traced all the way back to the formation of the two-party system, but are more closely related to the 2012 Congressional elections. As a result of those elections, the Democrats obtained a majority in the Senate, and the Republicans in the House of Representatives. Democrats in the Senate block Republican bills, and Republicans in the House block Democratic ones: this is why there are very few bills being signed into law. This gridlock is what caused the government shutdown.

     In essence, what the Republicans did was hold the budget bill hostage until the Democrats agreed to make cuts to the Affordable Care Act. But this is Washington, so naturally the Democrats did not agree. Their response was to, in turn, block all Republican bills that had anything to do with the Affordable Care Act. The arguing continued until October first, which happens to be the first day of the new fiscal year (banks and businesses begin their year on October first). So, when no budget was passed for the 2014 fiscal year, the government effectively ran out of money. That is why nearly 800,000 federal employees were furloughed (asked not to come to work) for nearly sixteen days.

     It was only the infamous debt ceiling that finally compelled the two sides to pass a budget bill and send back to work the 800,000 furloughed federal employees. Had the shutdown lasted one more day, the United States would have had to default on its debt, essentially refusing to pay the money it owes. This could have had a drastic effect, potentially throwing the world economy into a depression. Fortunately, this situation was avoided–but the outcome still isn’t great. The government is only funded through January of 2014, and the debt ceiling was only pushed back to February of 2014. Congress is already preparing for the same fight they just settled. What’s even more foolish is that all of the money Congress is going to authorize themselves to spend has already been spent. Perhaps, with the knowledge of what happened during this shutdown, we will be able prevent a shutdown from ever happening again.

 

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