The Government Shutdown: 5 Questions Answered

The government is going to shutdown in a matter of hours. Why and what does that even mean? What will it cost and how will it end? We have you covered.

government shutdown, obamacare, obama, john boehner, republican party
Don't expect any friendly handshakes between President Obama and Speaker Boehner anytime soon. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

The government has officially shutdown. Why and what does that even mean? What will it cost and how will it end? We have you covered.

1.       Why has the government shut down?

Because House Republicans and Senate Democrats cannot agree on a bill to keep it running. The government has to agree to continue to pay for the services it provides (more on those in a bit), and our Congress is so divided that it can’t even agree to do that. House Republicans passed a bill on party lines that couples funding the government with defunding Obamacare, knowing full well that it wouldn’t go anywhere in the Senate, which it didn’t. The Senate responded with a “clean” bill, which stripped out defunding Obamacare and simply said that the government would continue to fund itself.

2.       How is the government shutdown going to end?

No one knows. Republicans have brought the government to the brink of default and shutting down in the recent past, but there were always negotiations between the parties happening on some level. Right now, hours before the shutdown: crickets. Both sides seem to think that a government shutdown will be so horrible that the other side will blink first and negotiate. Neither side shows any sign of actually doing that.

3.       Who should I blame for a government shutdown?

How you answer this question may determine which side offers an actual deal first (as in, a deal the other side would consider). The Republican Party is the side demanding that this deal includes something more than continuing to fund the government, so if you believe that the two parties should negotiate without the threat of doing damage to the country, then blame the Republicans (and be aware that that’s been their M.O. for a while). If you think that Democrats should bend here, or that Obamacare is so awful that it’s worth shutting down the government to take a (likely futile) stand against it, then you can shift some of that blame to the Democrats.

4.       Is it really so simple as Republicans want X, Democrats want Y?

Yes and no. Democrats are more or less united on this one: they will not negotiate with Republicans on funding the government, especially if defunding or delaying (the House’s latest offer) is on the table. Republicans are split, which is apparent in the Senate more so than the House. Even in the House, however, Republican leadership has tried unsuccessfully to convince Tea Partiers to save this fight for the debt ceiling debate (in two weeks!) or a budget battle. It’s really the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party that is driving the ship, while older, more experience Republicans (especially those who remember the Newt Gingrich-led shutdown of 1995) don’t want this to happen.

5.       What does it mean for the government to shut down?

A lot. Government funds everything from testing our drinking water to evaluating insurance plans to paying the Congress that got us into this mess. Government employees who operate essential services like air traffic controllers, national weather service meteorologists and Superfund project managers will stay on the job. Everyone else, like food inspectors, pesticide regulators and renewable energy researchers gets an unpaid vacation. Members of Congress? America apparently can’t survive without their essential service: they still get paid.

Government shutdowns cost money and they hurt the economy. The full costs are hard to estimate, because they are so far-reaching, and include psychological effects, like damage to investor confidence. The 90s government shutdown cost an estimated $1.4 billion in unnecessary costs (more like $2 billion in today’s dollars). Economists estimate that the shutdown’s cost will amplify as it goes on, and a government shutdown of more than a month risks sending the U.S. into a recession.

A government shutdown would be bad news. The worst part is that it’s totally unnecessary.

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