(Image via aoc.gov)
Volunteer Writer: Connor Sullivan
The threat of a government shutdown has been lingering this past week as Congress failed to agree on a budget plan for the 2024 fiscal year.
Government funding is set to expire by the end of September 30th.
If Congress does not approve a new funding plan, then the government won’t have the funds it needs to operate and shut down. As this deadline only gives Congress a week to approve its twelve annual appropriation bills, a shutdown seems all but assured.
To help understand why this is happening, it’s worth remembering that Congress, the legislative branch of the US government, is composed of two parts: the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The House of Representatives has the power to pass bills that, with Senate approval, get sent to the president. These include bills that appropriate government funds. (If you are still confused, this song might help).
Currently, the House is controlled by Republicans, presided by Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, while the Senate is controlled by Democrats.
The expectation, according to the think tank Brookings, was that Congress would match their twelve appropriation bills to the spending limit that House Speaker McCarthy and President Biden agreed upon back in June in the Fiscal Responsibility Act, around 1.6 trillion dollars total.
However, as outlined by the Washington Post on September 13th, House Republicans have yet to get enough votes to move forward on either a bill to fund the Defense Department or the Department of Agriculture, which are normally the easy steps of funding the government.
Many have laid the blame for this on deep fractures between two factions of House Republicans: the “hard right” and the “moderate” members.
The “hard right” faction is composed of those who, according to the New York Times, are unhappy with the compromise reached between Speaker McCarthy and President Biden. They demand much steeper cuts in spending and seem likely to refuse any plans without them.
The “moderate” faction are those who, according to the Washington Post, don’t want “to grant hard-right lawmakers’ request to cut spending further, arguing they have continually moved the goal posts and made demands after the House Appropriations Committee spent months drafting 12 bills under the roughly $1.6 trillion agreed to by McCarthy and President Biden to raise the debt ceiling earlier this year.”
CBS News congressional correspondent Scott MacFarlane echoed the idea of this fracture between Republicans preventing further action, stating, “A shutdown is increasingly likely because some of the relationships needed to patch together a deal are become unbound…republicans need to get together…if they want to pass a party line bill to start negotiations with the senate on how to keep the government open.”
House Speaker McCarthy was confident that Congress would reach a solution, stating, “We’re going to solve this problem.”
This has seemed to waver in the past week as the BBC quotes him as accusing this hard right faction of wanting to “burn this place down” after a defense funding bill failed to pass for the second time.
This puts McCarthy in a difficult position to maneuver out of. He can’t cooperate with the “hard right” House Republicans, as the resulting bills would likely never make it past the Democratic Senate.
He can’t cooperate with the democrats because not following the “hard right” Republican’s demands risks having them move to vacate his position, removing him as Speaker of the House.
So, if all twelve appropriation bills aren’t approved before the start of October, we will experience a government shutdown.
What does that mean for us?
While many of the government’s operations will come to a halt in the event of a shutdown, those that are considered “essential” will continue.
Federal workers will be either “furloughed,” meaning temporarily relieved from work, or expected to work without pay. Back pay is guaranteed to these workers, but they will be expected to go for an indefinite amount of time without a paycheck.
This may lead to some employees quitting or refusing to work. This happened during the 2019 government shutdown, where ten air traffic controllers stopped showing up, causing delays to ripple through the whole American airport system.
Many other government services will similarly seem to continue like normal, but the lack of funds and staff will cause parts of these services to cease and pose a risk to long-term operation.
National parks may remain open but will likely lack staff, meaning few to no visitor services or maintenance will be offered.
Social Security checks will still be sent to recipients, but other services like accepting applications and replacing cards will not be offered.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will only be required to provide benefits for thirty days. If the shutdown lasts longer, it will pose a threat to those relying on food stamps or EBT cards.
While not all of us will face immediate impacts from a shutdown, the cascading effects it will have through all portions of American life means that it will not be sustainable for long.
Unfortunately, it seems our only course of action is to wait and hope Congress can overcome this infighting.
*Article edited for clarity on 9/27/23