The longest government shutdown in this country’s history has ended — for three weeks. President Donald Trump has demanded $5.7 billion in federal funding for a U.S. – Mexico border that he promised back in his 2016 presidential campaign.
The shutdown began on Dec. 22 and lasted up until Jan. 25, totaling 35 days. On Jan. 25, the House and Senate passed a stopgap spending bill funding federal agencies for normal operations until Feb. 15.
The stopgap bill will not allow for funding of the U.S – Mexico border wall, but it does increase the funding for border security. It also provides financial relief for many federal workers who have either been out of work or working with no pay for the last month. However, Trump has said that if the money for the wall is not funded by Feb. 15 he will impose another shutdown or declare a national emergency.
“We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier,” said Trump in a speech in the White House Rose Garden. “If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on Feb. 15, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and Constitution of the United States to address this emergency.”
The shutdown began when Trump refused to sign the spending bill for the 2019 fiscal year because it did not include funding for the wall that he says is key to our national security. On the other side, the Democrats feel that the wall not a necessity and refuse to provide him the money to fund it.
“Our government operates on a budget and normally budgets for the coming year are sorted in about June or July. Congress passes that budget and the president approves it,” said Dr. Chapman Rackaway, Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science. “The government runs on a budget set one year at a time and if there is no new budget set then there is no money to run the government.”
Without a budget set in place for the government to operate on, both non-essential and essential workers are among those who have struggled through this shutdown. Non-essential workers are those who work for the government, but their presence at work during an emergency is not required. Essential workers are those who perform work that involves the safety of human life or the protection of property. Non-essential workers have now missed work for a month, while essential workers have been working without pay for the last month.
“There will be some sort of element of back pay, but that doesn’t matter if you’re living paycheck to paycheck and you can’t pay your rent or your mortgage and you lose your home,” said Rackaway. “I think the fact that there have been around 1800 GoFundMe pages started by people who are in that essential mode speaks to just what a challenge it is. It’s all well and good to say that you’re going to get paid eventually, but my bills can’t just be paid eventually.”
While this shutdown has affected thousands of people in the country, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans seemed eager to end it. If anything, both parties had their own reasons to keep the shutdown going.
“Both sides have a bit of incentive to keep this shutdown going. At least they think they have an incentive because this shutdown is going to be one of the key issues in the presidential election of 2020,” said Rackaway.
Democrats know that the longer this shutdown lasts the angrier the American people will become closer to the 2020 election and if that happens they will have a much easier time pushing their candidate over Trump or any other Republican candidate.
“Democrats don’t want to give Trump the wall because they know that he will campaign off of that. They also think that they can beat him and other Republicans up by blaming the shutdown on them,” said Rackaway. “So the longer it goes, the more recent it is in people’s memory, the more the Democrats think it will help them electronically in 2020.”
Beyond the reason of having the wall built, Republicans also see this shutdown as an opportunity to show the American people that the federal government can and should be shrunken down.
“Trump, as a lot of conservatives, would like to see the federal government shrink, so they’re seeing a prolonged shutdown and saying that if people aren’t getting up and arms about this why aren’t we cutting more about what the federal government does,” said Rackaway.
Much of what the government does is behind the scenes and does not impact the everyday life of the average American, therefore, much of the public is unsure of what this shutdown means for those that it does directly impact.
“There is not a big public outcry about this because on a day to day basis people are not seeing much of an impact of the shutdown,” said Rackaway. “The general public needs something big and they need something inconvenient to shake them out of their complacency on this.
“When people find things that are really personally relevant to them that is when they tend to take action,” continued Rackaway. “Even when they see bad things happening for other folks they tend to stay on the sideline until it impacts them personally. Then they spring into action.”
With many Americans unaware of the severity of the situation at hand, it is important that they educate themselves on the issue–and beyond that, voice their thoughts to elective officials.
“The budget process is what is driving this, but also I think this is a wake-up call for a lot of people,” said Rackaway. “We can post things on social media, we can talk about these things amongst ourselves and we all tend to have pretty clear ideas on how we want this to resolve. What we are not doing is communicating this to our elective officials and that is what we need to do more of.”