By Duke Staff
Today, the government shutdown enters day 26, having surpassed the record for longest government shutdown in U.S. history (the former record holder being 21 days in the Clinton Administration). However, through all of the political infighting, pointless press conferences and heartbreaking reports of federal workers struggling to make ends meet, there still appears to be no end in sight.
The fundamental question that everyone is asking, however, remains: What exactly does a government shutdown mean, and how does the government shutdown affect all of us?
This week, we have several pieces in our Opinions section that are focused on the government shutdown — the negative ways it has already begun to impact our nation, the arguments that are being made on both sides and the Trump administration immigration policy that started the fight in the first place — but we wanted to get down to brass tacks to better understand the mechanics of the mess that we’re in.
As dictated by our Constitution, the legislative branch is supposed to pass spending bills to fund the various government agencies periodically. There is no set time period for how long these spending bills need to be (could span funding between weeks and a full year) and the bills could fully or partially fund the government. However, without passing said bill, the government will close. And, as there is no limit placed on how long a shutdown can last, it can continue indefinitely. Trump has publicly joked that he may make it carry on for months or years.
In our modern partisan political climate, this phenomenon has often been used as a political bargaining chip for legislators to force votes on bills that both sides have fundamental disagreements on. In this instance, President Trump is attempting to use the government shutdown as a way to get funding for his wall (more than $5 billion, to be exact) in order to uphold his “build the wall” campaign promise.
While this sounds like a lot of the same divisive back and forth that always occurs in the Capitol, it has real life ramifications that are hurting millions of Americans. As this is a partial shutdown, it affects about half of the government agencies; The Departments of Commerce, Agriculture, Transportation, Interior, State, Justice, Homeland Security, Treasury and Housing and Urban Development. In this situation, federal workers in these departments deemed “non-essential” can be furloughed, or sent home without pay, in order to handle the shutdown.
According to the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, 380,000 furloughed government workers, and 420,000 still working without pay. This also doesn’t take into account the government contractors that are also affected by the shutdown. This had lead to a spike in workers filing for unemployment in order to supplement the absence of income. By the third week of the shutdown, approximately 2,300 federal workers throughout Pennsylvania have filed for unemployment, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Meanwhile, Trump just hosted a fast food feast extravaganza in the White House State Dining Room that has exploded into an Internet meme for the ages (which, unfortunately, is the most productive thing he has accomplished in weeks).
The effects of this shutdown are clearly widespread, and growing. According to Pew Research Center, 58 percent of Americans think the shutdown is a “very serious problem,” and a Washington Post/ABC poll revealed that 53 percent of Americans blame the president. Degrading the quality of life of government workers who serve the public in exchange for an impossible campaign promise that only serves Trump’s ego is not the behavior of a leader, let alone any rational person. The shutdown cannot go on for another week, let alone months or years.