In the early autumn of the year 2015, the American government narrowly avoided a shutdown, although the issue is expected to emerge again by the end of the year. The purpose of the present sample essay provided by Ultius is to explore this event in greater detail.
Shutdown of the Government in 2015
The essay will begin by discussing the very nature of a government shutdown within the United States. Then, it will proceed to consider an actual shutdown that did occur, a mere two years ago, in the year 2013. After this, the essay will discuss the underlying reasons why the possibility of shutdown has emerged again at the present time. Finally, the essay will reflect on this event in light of the consequences that it can be expected to have on the confidence that the American people feel in their own government.
Overview of the shutdown
To start with, Brass has explained the basics of what actually happens when a government shutdown occurs within the United States:
“When federal agencies and programs lack funding after the expiration of full-year or interim appropriations, the agencies and programs experience a funding gap. If funding does not resume in time to continue government operations, then, under the Antideficiency Act, an agency must cease operations” (1).
Essentially, then, a government shutdown happens when Congress, which is responsible for passing the budget for the government as a whole on an annual basis, fails to do this and thereby prevents governmental agencies from receiving the funding they need in order to continue functioning. In the event that this happens, governmental functions are reduced to a bare minimum (specified within the relevant legislation), with all other activities ceasing until the budgetary crisis is resolved.
A government shutdown in the United States, is fundamentally a matter of finance. Or at least, this is how the matter is operationalized: Congress refuses to release money, and the government therefore stops being able to function. Behind the financial facade, however, there are usually strong political conflicts involved. After all, it is not in any legislator’s best interest per se to cause a shutdown in the very organization (i.e. the American government) for which he works and for whose functioning he is accountable to his constituents.
Generally speaking, though, pushing the situation to the limit of a government shutdown could be understood as being somewhat akin to a game of legislative “chicken”. One stakeholder (i.e. the Republican or Democratic Party) threatens to let a shutdown happen, unless the other stakeholder makes certain concessions to the first stakeholder. Pushing for a shutdown is thus often based on strategic calculations regarding who has more to lose, or who will look worse in the public eye, in the event that a shutdown actually were to occur.
In any event, a government shutdown this year has been avoided, at least for the time being. As Kelly has reported:
“Congress voted Wednesday [September 30th] to fund the government through Dec. 11 and avert a shutdown at midnight. Lawmakers now have about 10 weeks to negotiate a longer-term budget solution to prevent another potential shutdown crisis in December” (paragraphs 1-2).
The issue is thus far from over: in the current situation, the budget that has been passed is only valid for two months; and even in the best-case scenario, the budget for the American government must be renewed on an annual basis. This is why the issue of government shutdown seems to keep emerging over and over again. In principle, the issue could emerge every single time a budget needs to be passed in Congress. In practice, though, the fact that the issue actually does emerge is usually a sign that partisan tensions within Congress are running especially high.
Shutdown in 2013
Two years ago, the American government actually did shutdown, during the first two weeks of the month of October. This was because unlike this time around in the year 2015, the Congress of 2013 actually failed to agree on any short-term budget extension, and thereby actually let the government go into shutdown mode. Appleton has described the situation in the following way:
“It started over Obamacare. Congress failed to come to an agreement on a budget after Republican lawmakers began pushing to defund Obamacare. Not surprisingly, Senate Democrats and the Obama administration rejected the proposals and the resulting impasse led to the partial shutdown” (paragraph 2).
This led to the initiation of a process called furloughing, through which hundreds of thousands of government employees were especially suspended and several non-essential government services, including the national parks service and NASA, were closed. Appleton has indicated that this shutdown caused the American government 25 billion dollars over the course of a mere 16 days.
The shutdown came to an end with Congress finally deciding to pass a budget extension, followed by a new budget. The Republicans withdrew from their position, agreeing to continue the funding of Obamacare; a few token concessions were made by the Democrats regarding certain bureaucratic provisions. The shutdown, however, would seem to have actually hurt the Democrats, in the long run.
Given both the party’s strong presence in Congress at the time at the fact that the President himself was a Democrat, the public perception of the shutdown was likely not so much that the Republicans were being unreasonable, but rather the Democrats were being incompetent.
This may at least partly explain the considerable success that the Republicans experienced in the midterm elections the following year.
Underlying Reasons in 2015
At the present time, the main reason why a potential government shutdown has emerged on the radar of the news again has to do with the non-profit organization Planned Parenthood. This organization is, among other things, responsible for providing abortion services to American women. According to theSkimm,
“the GOP [the Republican Party] wants to pull the plug on the nonprofit’s funding. Though government money doesn’t actually go towards [a]bortion, about $500 million goes toward things like treating STD and providing contraception” (paragraph 3).
So, just as it threatened a government shutdown in 2013 if funding for Obamacare continued, the Republican Party this threatened that it would cause a shutdown if funding for Planned Parenthood continued.
Abortion, of course, has long been a controversial issue within the modern United States, with opponents of the practice going so far as to say that there is no moral difference between abortion and outright murder. Planned Parenthood, though, has come under especially scrutiny over the past few months due to a series of videos released regarding the organization.
As Calmes has reported, one of these videos
“shows a doctor from Planned Parenthood, over a lunch with red wine, answering questions from two people off-camera posing as potential purchasers of tissue from aborted fetuses. The doctor discusses with them, sometimes flippantly, the body parts most in demand” (paragraph 2).
If this video is really portraying what it seems to be portraying, then it would seem to confirm some of pro-life activists’ greatest fears regarding the practice of abortion: namely, that it is undergirded by utter dehumanization, and that the people who support the practice are in essence also supporting a culture of death. This controversy has galvanized Republicans within Congress to take a renewed stand against federal funding for abortions in general and Planned Parenthood in particular.
This issue is likely to re-emerge in December, when the short-term budget extension passed this week will expire. At that point, news of a potential government shutdown is likely to emerge once again, as the current controversy regarding funding for Planned Parenthood will not have been resolved in the meanwhile. However, Republicans may have greater incentive to avoid a government shutdown this time around (relative to in the year 2013), due to the fact that the Republicans are now in a stronger position within Congress.
Which means that in the public eye, they will likely look worse than the Democrats in the event that a shutdown actually did happen again (Phillips). In other words, it would not be as strategically advantageous for the Republicans to make a shutdown happen this year. This can already be seen in the fact that a short-term budget extension was passed this week, whereas the government was actually allowed to shut down in the year 2013.
Effects on public confidence
Regarding the trust that the American people have in their government, Riffkin has noted that this metric is at an all-time low:
“In 2014, an average of 15% of Americans approved of Congress. Yearly, approval averages have not exceeded 20% for five years” (paragraph 1).
These numbers could in all fairness be called devastating, and they can be understood to strongly indicate American democracy has not been working, as of late, for the American people. The government shutdown of 2013 surely played a role in taking public trust in Congress down to the lowest level ever; and if a shutdown were to happen again this December, then this could only be expected to make a bad situation even worse. It is unclear what it would take to restore public confidence in Congress, but it is easy enough to understand what would not help.
A government shutdown could, in essence, only be read by the average American as evidence that his lack of trust in Congress is wholly and utterly justified. Moreover, this would be a not inaccurate conclusion to draw from the situation. A government shutdown means that partisan tensions within Congress have reached such ridiculous levels that elected legislators are no longer able to fulfill even the most basic requirements of their jobs, such as ensuring that the federal government remains open and that the American people are able to continue deriving benefits from its services.
It also means that legislators have become unethical enough to essentially hold the government itself hostage, and essentially try to blackmail their rivals with the threat of shutting down the government in the event that they refuse to make the requested concessions. Politics, of course, has always been a relatively rough game; but to engage in tactics this extreme can only give the average American person the impression that Congress is filled with unscrupulous and ultimately immature persons who cannot seriously be trusted to run the American government in an effective way.
Did the US Government overstep their boundaries? Learn more about Operation Choke Point.
In summary, the present essay has discussed the potential shutdown of the American government this year. The essay has discussed the present situation, a past precedent, the reasons underlying the present situation, and the effects of the situation on public confidence. One conclusion that has been reached here is that unlike two years ago, the Republicans are unlikely to push for a government shutdown this year, due to the simple fact that they have more to lose from such a move this time around than they did in the year 2013.
However, the very fact that the possibility of a government shutdown continues to emerge in the news is likely in itself enough to erode the trust of the average American. This is for the obvious reason that a government shutdown can only be read as evidence that Congress is failing to do its job.
Appleton, Kirsten. “Here’s What Happened the Last Time the Government Shut Down.” ABC. 18 Nov. 2014. Web. 2 Dec. 2015. government-shut/story?id=26997023>.
Brass, Clinton T “Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects.” Congressional Research Service. 8 Sep. 2014. Web. 2 Oct. 2015.
Calmes, Jackie. “Video Accuses Planned Parenthood of Crime.” New York Times. 15 Jul. 2015. Web. 2 Oct. 2015. parenthood-of-crime.html?_r=0>.
Kelly, Erin. “Obama Signs Funding Bill Averting Government Shutdown—For Now.” USA Today. 30 Sep. 2015. Web. 2 Oct. 2015.
Phillips, Amber. “The One Number that Could Signal the Next Government Shutdown.” Washington Post. 1 Oct. 2015. Web. 2 Oct. 2015. could-signal-the-next-government-shutdown/>.
Riffkin, Rebecca. “2014 U.S. Approval of Congress Remains Near All-Time Low.” Gallup. 15 Dec. 2014. Web. 2 Oct. 2015. congress-remains-near-time-low.aspx>.
theSkimm. “theSkimm’s Guide to the Maybe Government Shutdown.” Author, n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2015. .