Partisan politics square off with US stability in recent shutdown

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, February 7th, 2018 at 5:38 PM

On the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the White House announced that government agencies would be implementing shutdown procedures while budget negotiations continued in the Capitol. 

Dr. James Fisher, of Edinboro University’s political science department, stated in an interview that when “the federal government fails to pass bills that give it permission to spend money in the treasury,” a government shutdown ensues. 

Modern American history is littered with these shutdowns, all largely caused by a lack of compromise between Republicans and Democrats in the legislative and executive branches.

Recently, after Republicans gave no concessions for the “Dreamers,”  (immigrants brought into the United States as minors and given protection from deportation by former president Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival executive order) in the new budget, progress with the Democrats came to a halt.  Squabbles over funding Trump’s border wall stymied progress further, and the shutdown ensued. 

According to Fisher, the recent shutdown is “highly distinct in that it occurred when one political party controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency (although Democrats hold enough seats in the Senate to force the Republicans to work with them).” 

Each fiscal year, Congress and the executive branch must agree upon the new budget; if they cannot, “funding gaps” occur and the government agencies affected must temporarily lay off non-essential personnel, which constitutes a “shutdown.” 

These government employees must wait for a new budget to be agreed upon and hope for back pay if or when their positions are reinstated. Funding gaps are made possible by the Anti-Deficiency Act, which “bars obligation of funds [to government agencies] in the absence of appropriations.” Appropriations are practical budgets that please both Congress and the president, used for government services in the coming fiscal year. Exceptions to the barring of funds are provided “for activities involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

Government officials have a responsibility to the American people to come to sound, fair agreements regarding the budget to prevent funding gaps, but shirking these responsibilities is nothing new for them. Reagan-era America saw a series of partial shutdowns, none lasting longer than three days. 

Reasons for these shutdowns included Democrats vying for higher education bills and lower defense spending, Reagan and congressmen from both parties having dinner plans and fundraising events to attend instead of negotiating a budget, and disputes over job stimulus programs.

The longest modern shutdown had a 21-day duration, costing Bill Clinton’s constituents $1.4 billion in 1996, when the GOP-run Congress proposed a budget that included raising Medicare premiums and circumventing environmental regulations. 

The Obama administration is runner-up; in 2013, shutdown procedures were followed for 16 days that cost the economy $24 billion when Obamacare forced a wedge between Republicans and Democrats.

In the past several years, shutdowns have been ended by the president signing one or more “continuing resolution(s)” (CRs), which, according to Fisher, “keep spending largely as-is, with a few specific policy changes or special spending packages so negotiations can continue.” CRs have taken the place of the appropriations bills, which are proposed laws that authorize long-term government spending once passed. 

In 2013, Obama signed 3 CRs that ensured funding until Jan. 19, 2018. Trump and Congress could not agree on a new budget when these CRs expired, hence the 2018 shutdown. These temporary resolutions delay a coherent, long-term budget from being created as each party tries to gain an inch over the other, leading to shutdowns later. Fisher dubbed the tendency of both parties to highly politicize the budgeting process ­­— to the point that they gamble with shutting down job-providing government facilities in the hopes of coercing legislative concessions out of the other party — as “a disservice to the American people.” 

The shutdown of 2018 ended on Jan. 22 after Trump and Congress signed continuing resolutions — with stipulations for the CHIP funding to appease Democrats — to extend funding until Feb. 8 so negotiations, or lack thereof, can continue. 

Hopefully, our elected representatives can come to their senses and a more long-term budget can be negotiated and implemented before then. I won’t hold my breath; a recent history of, as Fisher puts it, “politicians that can’t get along to do the most basic work of government,” implies otherwise. The Democratic party is predicted to take back the House of Representatives in the 2018 elections, augmenting the already likely chance of future shutdowns due to partisan polarization.

In a political era of contention and blame from both parties, the American people are finally wondering why highly-paid government officials can’t keep our facilities running. If the average American citizen can’t complete their work, they are let go, but if Congress and the president can’t complete their work, employees working in government facilities are let go. Like Reagan-era politicians, maybe our political leaders have important fundraisers to go to, or perhaps an elegant dinner. One thing is clear: decades of partisan selfishness have created a confused and divided America. 

Zeila Hobson can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com.

Tags: voices

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