Government In-Action: The January Shutdown Weekend

By Madeleine Watkins

January 20 was the first anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The day also brought with it the expiration to the annual federal budget. In order to keep funding flowing through the government, a budget must pass through the Senate and the House before being signed by the president to renew government spending. If this fails to pass, then the government shuts down until this fiscal lease can be renewed. During a shutdown, there are certain facets of the government that remain open, and others that remain closed until a budget decision is met. National parks, monuments, zoos, passport offices, some military operations, government research operations, some disaster-recovery efforts, federal service academy athletics, and most federal office buildings remained closed. Other services, like the U.S. Postal Service, Veteran’s hospitals, federal prisons, Congress, and local schools, libraries, and parks remain open. The longer federal workers get leave, the greater the monetary and economic impacts of the shutdown. 

Stubborn disagreement over partisan issues was the primary hinderance in the most recent shutdown. For Democrats, an unwavering duty for the continued protection of the Dreamers and DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) stood at the forefront of their demands. Trump had previously stated that he would not sign any budget that did not include funding for his infamous border wall, although he has hitherto claimed that Mexico would be the one to pay for it.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. Photo credit: Tom Brenner.

The weekend of January 20-21 offered a brief cushion to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R- KY) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D- NY), and a chance to end the shutdown before federal employees had to deal with the uncertainty of whether they should report to work on Monday, January 22. By Sunday, a tentative agreement had been worked out between the sides, including a budget plan for a border wall and extended protection for Dreamers.

A primary fighting force for an end to the gridlock lay in a group of bipartisan Senate members, 20 strong, that met behind closed doors to produce a compromise that would get the government back on its feet. Among these women and men who transcended partisan biases and tensions were both of Virginia’s senators, Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. They knew that a continued federal shutdown would impact the many Virginian families who work for the government and were ever the more determined to reach a settlement. To all involved, it was apparent that the longer the government remained out of working order, the less likely a satisfying negotiation was to emerge from their discussions.

The U.S. Capitol. Photo credit: Gabriella Demczuk.

Although the Democrats remained unwavering in their pursuit of extended care for DACA benefactors, GOP leaders were having trouble discerning what to demand from the bill. While the shutdown progressed, Trump had vacillated between different standings on immigration, leaving his own party confused and divided.

Both sides have been throwing the blame at the feet of the other, claiming to be withheld from a compromise by the unshifting and misplaced desires of the other party. The last government shutdown in 2013 came out of similar partisan disagreements, specifically the insistence by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that Congress defund Obamacare. Our latest shutdown, and the divisions of the past, only corroborate the reality of polar partisanship impairing the ability of the government to do its job of protecting and supporting the rights of all Americans.

Finally, after three days of apparent static and gridlock, the government shutdown came to an end. Schumer and McConnell agreed to reopen the government and pass an extended budget that would last until this Thursday, February 8. This agreement also came with the pretense of placing priority discussions around immigration, namely DACA. With the stopgap bill, Schumer hopes that the process will be “neutral and fair to all sides,” and he expects an immigration bill to be met with a fair and considered vote. This stopgap compromise, while achieving none of the goals initially brought to the table by either side, was reached with alacrity by the advocacy and leadership of those in the nonpartisan group of legislators.

While many believe the shutdown to have been ineffective, there are several results of import to be noted. Concerning the budget, there has been a proposed $25 billion budget for border control, including an assessment of current border fencing and protection, which will be analyzed mile by mile. A ten-to-twelve year path to citizenship as been outlined for some 700,000 adults who benefit from the DACA program, as well as the 1.8 million people are illegible. However, one limitation set on future immigration is the limitation of family connections; the GOP supports family sponsors only bringing in spouses and minor children for a Family Reference VISA. In a bipartisan victory, funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has also been supplied for the next six years.

The stopgap bill passed officially on January 23 recognizes a three-week period for lawmakers to return to the drawing board and come up with a solution that agreeably meets the demands of both parties. Although the government managed to reopen successfully and restore the hours and wages of federal workers, it remains to be seen if a truly bipartisan solution can be reached before another shutdown is forced to occur.

About the author

Madeleine Watkins is a junior at Collegiate School, and an avid member of the cross country team and thespian society.