Graphic by Dorothy Lam/The Gazelle

U.S. Government Shutdown Explained

After weeks of failed compromise in Congress over how to prevent the government of the United States from running out of money, the U.S. government ...

Oct 5, 2013

Graphic by Dorothy Lam/The Gazelle
After weeks of failed compromise in Congress over how to prevent the government of the United States from running out of money, the U.S. government shut down its operations on Oct. 1 for the first time in nearly two decades.
Congress failed to meet their 11:59 p.m. deadline on Sept. 30. As a result, millions of U.S. Americans are out of work and government-funded programs have ground to a halt. NASA, with the exception of two astronauts in space and their support crew, has shut down. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must shut down the annual influenza program, which provides flu shots to U.S. citizens, and is now unable to assist state and local authorities in tracking diseases. These are just a few of the many repercussions.
Come Oct. 17, if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling, the amount of national debt the U.S. Treasury can issue, the United States could default on its debt. President Obama could invoke the 14th amendment, which would allow him to increase the debt ceiling without Congressional approval. However, if neither Congress nor President Obama raises the debt ceiling, the U.S. Treasury will no longer be able to borrow money and citizens across the nation will face a wave of economic consequences.
“The United States is the center of the world economy. So if we screw up, everybody gets screwed up,” said President Obama to the American people in suburban Maryland on Thursday. “The whole world will have problems, which is why generally nobody has ever thought to actually threaten not to pay our bills. It will be the height of irresponsibility. There will be no negotiations over this. The American people are not pawns in some political game. You don’t get to demand some ransom in exchange for keeping the government running.”
The Politics of the Shutdown
The two chambers of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, must come to a consensus on how to keep the U.S. government up and running by the end of September.
The debate of this fiscal year, which began Sept. 20, has its roots in a healthcare bill known as The Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare, which was signed into law by President Obama on Mar. 23, 2010.  ObamaCare would cut healthcare costs and help provide affordable health insurance to the 44 million U.S. Americans that are unable to receive health care.
On Sept. 20, the Republican-dominated House of Representatives drafted a spending bill that would eliminate funding for ObamaCare to help finance the government. This bill was received with harsh criticism by the Senate’s Democratic majority, but Republican Sen. Ted Cruz spoke for 21 hours and 19 minutes on Sept. 24 to proceed with the bill. After the bill was sent back and forth between the House and the Senate, with each chamber stripping the bill of provisions they deemed unconstitutional, midnight arrived and the U.S. government entered shutdown mode.
“The last time we had this, it was over essentially how much the government should be spending and how much deficit reduction, and that’s the kind of thing that you can fiddle around the edges with,” said Ron Rogowski, visiting professor of Political Science at NYU Abu Dhabi, referring to the previous government shutdown in 1995. “But when you say either you divorce your wife or I’m jumping off a cliff, there’s not a whole lot of give in between those positions.”
Opposition to funding ObamaCare stemmed from a Republican faction in the House known as the Tea Party, which rose to power in 2010. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a democrat of Nevada, has warned that the Tea Party is trying to destroy the government. Sen. Ted Cruz, a member of the Tea Party, has expressed disdain for ObamaCare, saying that it is a train wreck and a nightmare.
Amid these party politics, attempts at bipartisan negotiations have taken place, and stopgap bills designed to partially fund the government have been passed in one chamber, but rejected by the other. President Obama has made it clear that he would veto any piecemeal bill that only partially funds the federal government.
Yaw Nyarko, professor of Economics from NYU New York, said that if the ceiling is not raised by Oct. 17, either the Federal Reserve could take action or the government will default on its debt. Banks will shed assets and prices will soar, he said, but no one really knows the full extent of what could happen.
“As long as the Republican party fringes don’t decide to really destroy the U.S. economy, there is hope that the effect will be minimal,” Nyarko said. “It’s not a good thing … The employment hasn’t [been increasing, and] the economy is not moving as fast as it can.”
Consequences for U.S. Americans
Effects of the government shutdown have rippled across the United States.
Approximately 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed, given an unpaid leave of absence. All national parks and monuments have been shut down, and small businesses and first-time homeowners looking to take out loans will face problems. Passports will continue to be issued but applicants may face delays. Mail will still be delivered to homes and social security payments will continue. Military operations and national security operations will also remain active. Armed troops were initially supposed to remain on the job without pay, but President Obama signed legislation in the eleventh hour on Sept. 30 that would keep them on payroll.
Senior Erin Meekhof’s parents have been furloughed. They own a small consulting company in Virginia and have a contract with Homeland Security.
“They basically have a week of unpaid vacation this week and from there they don’t really know what’s going to happen,” Meekhof said. “The hardest thing is the uncertainty of whether their contract is going to continue, and continue to get paid, and be able to pay their employees … really it’s just kind of a waiting game at this point to see what’s going to happen.”
Programs that depend on federal funding have also been shut down. Along with the clinical cancer trials for children at the National Institute of Health, there are a number of other medical programs that have been shut down. Food programs like Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which provides low-income pregnant women, new mothers and children up to the age of five with food, have been suspended. The Head Start Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which provides education services to low-income families and their children, has lost its funding. As a result, thousands of disadvantaged children can no longer attend preschool programs at schools sponsored by Head Start.
Employees will remain out of work and programs will remain suspended until Congress reaches a budget agreement.
Kyleigh Johnson, a junior from NYUNY, worked at a school in Chinatown in New York City last year that operated under Head Start. She is concerned for the future of the program.
“[Head Start] increases the kids’ chances for success so much farther,” Johnson said. “To be able to enter a school feeling more confident in a classroom and knowing how to write your name, knowing how to think critically, knowing how to learn … to not already feel like you’re drowning from the beginning is so helpful.”
Students will face problems in the future if the debt ceiling is not raised. Funding for Pell Grants, a grant from the U.S. government to help students pay for college, could disappear, Rogowski said. Interest rates on student loans could freeze and Social Security payments could also stop, he added.
NYUNY junior Alexa Singh has expressed concern for her future career.
“I’m learning Arabic and I’m studying politics, so there are a lot of government-related jobs that I was looking at,” said Singh, who has interned at the Department of Agriculture for three summers. “I’m an upperclassman in college, I’m really thinking seriously about career choices and I feel like I had so little control over what happens in Washington that I don’t want something like my entire job and my paycheck to depend on it.”
As political parties continue to toss bills back and forth in Congress, trust in the U.S. political system has declined. According to a recent CNN poll, only 10 percent of U.S. Americans approve of Congress. A poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation also indicated that 57 percent of U.S. Americans disapprove of defunding ObamaCare.
The shutdown and its inherent party politics could also lead to ramifications for young voters and youth involved in political campaigns.
“I think a lot of them are just going to give up and say why should I waste my time on any matters that aren’t going to have any effect,” Rogowski said. “Or they’d have to think much more carefully about where they’re going to do it.”
Singh shares a similar sentiment.
“It’s putting a lot on us,” said Singh, who volunteered on the 2013 Mitt Romney campaign. “We basically have to usher in a change because a change is needed. I think this is scary and we have a lot of responsibility, but at the same time it opens up some interesting other avenues that could make American politics very different.”
Improvements in the system and the re-opening of government businesses and government-run programs remain contingent upon budget-cut negotiations and whether or not the debt ceiling will be raised by the mid-October deadline.
“The main difference between [the shutdown in 1995] and now is we’ve been through it before … they got their act together … It was a bit of an embarrassment for the United States,” Nyarko said. “The government should be doing the exact opposite of what it’s doing right now.”
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