An Overview of the Longest Government Shutdown in History


            Since December 21, 2018, the United States government has been in what is called a “government shutdown”. This is a state of conflict in government which occurs when continuing resolutions, or CRs, run out of funding to cover the expenses to keep any number of government agencies running (1). Every CR has a different timestamp for when the funding will run out, which is why some government shutdowns have happened at different times. These times all depend on the length of the fiscal year, which is the year as far as taxes and other accounting purposes are concerned (2). When a government shutdown occurs, all federal government agencies must “discontinue all non-essential discretionary functions until new funding legislation is passed and signed into law” (1). Services that are deemed “essential”, such as national security affairs, benefit payments like Medicare and Social Security, and the TSA must keep operating. Other services such as the U.S. Postal Service also remain in operation during the shutdown (3,1).

            However, just because these services are “operating”, it does not mean that they are fully functional. Because the U.S. government went into what is called a “full shutdown”, these services were only partially functional. For example, during the 1996 government shutdown, Social Security checks were sent out and Medicare was still active, there was no way to verify that people had those benefits and you could not get a new Medicare card or Social Security card. (1). The services that are affected are all based on which appropriations bills are passed, as they determine which agencies are funded during the fiscal year. Because the U.S. government was only in a “partial” government shutdown for 34 days, only about 25% of essential government workers and agencies were affected (3).

            As of January 29, 2019, the United States government is reopened until February 15, 2019, pending the approval of the remaining 5 CRs.

2018-2019 Shutdown

            The government shutdown that occurred from December 21, 2018 to January 25, 2019 is the longest running government shutdown in American history. The cause for this shutdown stems from President Trump’s campaign promise for a border wall that would cost $5 billion(4), which is assumed to come from the $1.3 trillion total that the government would have to spend this fiscal year if all 12 of the CR’s get passed. The conflict that triggered the shutdown itself was a reversal of position from President Trump, who originally voted on a bill with “no money for a wall” (4), but after his conservative colleagues began to push back on his vote, he reversed his opinion and vetoed the bill, forcing the government into shutdown at midnight on December 21. Business Insider has an in-depth timeline for how and when this conflict began, stemming from December 6, the day of the memorial service for the late former President George H.W. Bush.

Who and What is Affected?

            Because 7 of the proposed 12 CRs for this fiscal year were passed in September, very few government agencies were affected for the past 34 days. However, the 5 bills that were not passed affected several departments, including the following: Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Interior and State, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development (4). The problems that have stemmed from these departments being shuttered include loss of payment to over 800,000 federal workers. These problems can be exacerbated by an extension of the shutdown, and Congress is fighting to make sure that workers can return to work as normal.

            Other services that are affected by our current government shutdown include school lunch, a service that feeds over 29 million children every day, with some of them having their only meal of the day at school (5). CNN reports that concerns are mounting over what an extension into the shutdown would do to the school lunch program, as it is a critical resource to low-income families. James Weill stated in the same article that he believes that “total chaos” will occur if the government continues to be in shutdown. Because the program that provides school lunch is very tightly funded -with some schools being self-funded- it is of utmost importance to many educators, families, and experts that the government remains open.

Who is to Blame?

            If any topic about the current shutdown has received the most attention, it has been “Who is to blame?”. This question may be purely up to opinion. For Democrats and other left-leaning people, President Trump is to blame. For Republicans and other right-leaning people, Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the House Democrats are to blame for not cooperating and compromising on the proposed bills. The brief shutdown of the government in early 2018 was caused by the House Democrats, who, without a majority, caused a shutdown over President Trump’s decision to strip immigrant children of protection by the government. However, polls that were distributed showed that people were split: some blamed the Democrats, while some people said that both sides were to blame.

            During this shutdown, it is even more unclear than before. Does the blame fall on President Trump, as he is the one who holds the office of the president, assumingly having the last say on all of the governmental matters? Or, does the blame fall on the House Democrats again, because they failed to compromise with the GOP?

We may truly never know who the blame rests solely on- however, we must realize that a moment of unity is necessary to restore unity and normalcy in our country.