A Government En Impasse: Shutdown Overview

Gwynn Magnan, Writer on American Affairs

28 January, 2019

The Capitol Building apologies for the inconvenience

The Capitol Building apologies for the inconvenience


On the frigid morning of January 20th, 2017, Donald Trump stood on the steps of the Capitol and solemnly swore to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. In doing so, Trump had promised to subordinate his private desires to the public interest and to serve the nation as a whole rather than any specific faction within it. However, the President has not displayed evidence that he understands these obligations and promises. As with many of his actions while President, the current government shutdown blatantly exemplifies his self-perpetuated ignorance.

In brief, the government shutdown is the deadlock outcome of Donald Trump’s campaign promise to build a wall along the U.S. and Mexican border. Every fiscal year, the U.S. government runs on 12 appropriations bills to be passed by Congress, which outlines and authorizes expenditure of government funds. When all 12 of these bills are not adopted by October 1st – the start of the fiscal year – Congress and the President thus allow for short-term extensions. However, this process failed as Trump further demanded that any extension would include his $5.7 billion estimation for the border wall. In an act of anger and desperation along with a flex of Presidential authority, President Trump called a government shutdown in the mere hope that escalating the issue will pressure those blocking his funds to back down and shorten the span of the shutdown altogether. In its most simple terms, one can imagine his reaction mimicking that of a small child who demands that he have candy for dinner, however, when denied this request, the child refuses to eat anything at all until his parent’s cave to his initial wishes.

However, President Trump’s pressure tactics remain en impasse, which seems increasingly unbreakable as time goes on. The most critical outcome of this mess, despite the Trump administration’s efforts, is the extreme effects this shutdown has on government workers where, as of recently, at least nine federal departments and agencies have been closed since December 22nd, 2018. Within closed departments and agencies, only employees deemed “essential” have been reporting to work without the potential for pay until the shutdown is resolved. Government workers in law enforcement and public safety are those considered to be “essential”, along with air traffic control, medical care of veterans and federal criminal investigations all moving forward as usual.

Although many continue to work despite pay, there have been devastating consequences for those considered non-essential. Airport security screeners have been quitting en masse, causing mass backlogs of travellers spending extra hours in airports waiting out long lines. Federal Courts have the opportunity to stop hearing civil cases, city buses can to stop running, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are unable to perform routine safety inspections. Of the utmost concern, however, is the fact that 38 million Americans could stop getting food stamps, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture has said that there are not enough funds to keep the stamps flowing past February.

The latest victim of the government shutdown, however, may be none other than the President himself. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a letter to the President on January 23rd, suggested that the annual State of the Union speech given before Congress should be postponed or scrapped in light of the ongoing shutdown. For context, the State of the Union Address is an annual message presented by the President to the U.S. Congress at the beginning of each calendar year. The message usually includes a budget message and an economic report of the nation, yet “sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week”, wrote Pelosi, “I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address”. Pelosi’s use of her authority as speaker thus denies Trump the use of perhaps the country’s most powerful forum, where without a speech, the President could lose the best opportunity to pitch his agenda both to Congress and to the public.

Moreover, the State of the Union is designated as a “national special security event”, and as such, Pelosi wrote, requires “weeks of detailed planning with dozens of agencies working together to prepare for the safety of all participants”. Thus, as the government remains shut down and security detail unable to work, Pelosi implies that the holding of the speech would be a dangerous decision. In response, the President used his favoured medium – Twitter – responding by stating that he is still thinking about the State of the Union speech, including doing it in person as security, according to the President, would not be an issue. Indirectly, however, the President responded to Pelosi by refusing to provide U.S. military transportation for her planned congressional delegation trip to Afghanistan and Belgium, and tweeting that Pelosi, “has behaved so irrationally and has gone so far to the left that she has now officially become a Radical Democrat”.

However, after 35 days of stubborn demands, President Trump seemingly caved and agreed to sign a continuing resolution that will reopen the federal government through February 15th. This grants congressional leaders just over three weeks to create a long-term solution, yet many believe this further opens the door for increased shutdown possibilities in the future.

It is odd to say that the President’s outlandish behaviour and use of Twitter remind me of the sort of environment Twitter used to be in 2013. Plagued with private interest and pure angst and frustration, young adolescents commonly called out those who bothered them or whom they did not trust. Yet, they had never agreed to serve and protect the American people, nor were they ever elected into any office on the condition that they pursue the public interest alone. It seems as though, still, President Trump is unable to conform to his Constitutional responsibility, and his child-like mistrust of any of those who do not directly agree would hope to show that perhaps the common 15-year-old in 2013 could have resolved a conflict like this because at least they never mentioned people’s names.