Will there be another government shutdown? Likely not, given how the latest shutdown just ended last month.
Congress had avoided a government shutdown for 10 months after the last one in early 2018, but after Democrats took over the House following the midterm elections, Trump ramped up his threats to shut down the government if he didn’t get money for his border wall. He made good on those threats in late December 2018 and dragged things out for 35 days, which was the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.
Tonight, Donald Trump will give his second State of the Union speech. This was nearly cancelled because to the shutdown. What will Trump talk about? My guess is he will mention the wall, but in doing so he will remind people of his greatest defeat as president.
On that note, I want to make this post as a reminder of what happened over the five weeks of the shutdown. I would also like to talk about the effects of it, who really ended it, and how we can avoid more shutdowns in the future.
Table of Contents
- What Unfolded During This Shutdown? (Timeline)
- Who Deserves the Credit for Ending the Shutdown?
- How Can We Avoid Shutdowns in the Future?
- Are You Watching the State of the Union Address?
What Unfolded During This Shutdown? (Timeline)
If there was an impasse in Congress over government funding, a partial shutdown was due to begin on December 21, 2018. Overall, 25% of the government, including The Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, the Department of the Interior, the Agriculture Department, and the Federal Trade Commission would run out of funding by the end of 2018.
Over 800,000 federal workers would miss their paychecks. Of these 800,000, over 420,000 would be required to work without pay. The workers who had to show up during the shutdown included Border Patrol officers, Coast Guard employees, correctional officers, FBI agents, Forest Service firefighters, TSA employees, U.S. Marshals, and Weather Service forecasters. The other 380,000 workers would be furloughed.
Other departments, including the Pentagon and the Department of Health and Human Services, already had guaranteed funding for 2019.
As of December 11, 2018, it was clear that a shutdown was going to take place because Trump was adamant about getting his wall funding.
Why did he take such a hard line at that moment when he had both houses of Congress for the first two years of his presidency? It was highly likely that Trump was throwing a temper tantrum because the Republicans had just lost the House of Representatives. He was also gambling to see if Democrats would cave. The Democrats had already offered $1.3 billion to fund Trump’s wall, but he didn’t take that deal.
December 11, 2018
On Tuesday, December 11, 2018, Donald Trump held a meeting with then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer in Oval Office. Vice President Mike Pence was also in attendance, but he didn’t utter a word.
The first part of the meeting was open to the press, which caught a contentious argument between the Democrats and the president. Early on, Pelosi said that she wanted to discuss the deal in private, but Trump insisted that it be televised.
During the televised part of the meeting, Trump insisted that the Democrats vote with Republicans to give him $5 billion to partially fund the wall along the Mexican border. Schumer said that the Democrats proposed a deal that would keep the government open. Pelosi dared Trump to called for a vote for wall funding and pointed out that he would not have the votes, even before Democrats took over the house in January 2019.
Later on, Trump and Schumer argued about the specter of another government shutdown. Trump pointed out that Democrats were blamed for the last one (Democrats tried to hold out for a clean DACA bill), but then he gave Schumer (and America) this gem:
And I’ll tell you what: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck because the people in this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems, and drugs pouring into our country.
So, I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting down, and I’m going to shut it down for border security.
This will be important for placing the blame on the shutdown on Trump. It was understood that Trump would backtrack on this statement, but it was well-documented. He clearly stated that he would shut down the government if he didn’t get his wall funding.
Shortly after making this statement, Trump waved goodbye to the reporters and the argument with him, Pelosi, and Schumer continued, with no results. It was clear that the Democrats won this round, given their reactions to reporters after the meeting. Trump clearly showed his hand and lost the narrative when he insisted that he would be “proud to shut down the government.” Pelosi later told other Democrats that they had the advantage and she told Trump that Democrats will pass the deal they came up with when they would take over the House.
December 20, 2018
A day before the partial shutdown began, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania) scoffed at the notion that a partial government shutdown would negatively impact government employees. He asked Sarah Ferris, a reporter for Politico, “Who’s living that they’re not going to make it to the next paycheck?”
Why are government employees so sacrosanct? Private sector employees deal with this all the time … The government’s not immune to these things.
Regardless of what Perry said, this was the reality facing many workers across the country, including those who worked for the government. According to a 2017 survey by CareerBuilder, 78% of full-time American workers said that they were living paycheck to paycheck. Seventy-one percent were in debt. Debt was also a problem for people who earned six figures.
It should also be noted that members of Congress, the president and the vice president would not be negatively impacted by a shutdown. They will still receive pay, which made Perry’s statements all the more callous and disconnected.
December 21-23, 2018
The partial government shutdown began on Friday, December 21, 2018. The House had passed a bill to fund the government (and Trump’s wall), but the Senate could not do the same because 60 votes were needed to pass such a bill in that chamber. The Senate adjourned without a deal, but Senators were due to meet Monday, Dec. 25 for a pro forma session and the chamber would reconvene on Dec. 27.
On Dec. 22, Sen David Perdue (R-Georgia) said that Mike Pence met with Chuck Schumer and relayed a request from the president. Trump wanted between $1.5 billion (which Congress had initially negotiated) and $5 billion funding for the wall. Schumer turned down that request, thus the shutdown continued.
December 23 marked two days since the partial government shutdown began. This was the third such shutdown of 2018 and it became the longest of Trump’s tenure. The first shutdown, which occurred in January 2018, lasted for 69 hours. The second, which happened in February, only lasted 9 hours. There was no telling when the latest shutdown was going to end.
December 24, 2018
A 14-year-old girl from California died at Horseshoe Bend Overlook on Christmas Eve in what is believed to be an accidental fall. She had traveled with her parents to Horseshoe Bend Overlook, which is part of the Glen Canyon Recreation Area in Arizona. The family reported her missing a 5:00 pm, but her body was located near the cliff just before dark; her body was retrieved the next morning.
December 25, 2018
On Christmas Day 2018, the body a man who was hiking with his dog at Yosemite National Park in California was discovered just after 3:00 pm. According to Victor Mendez, a tourist from Texas who was with his wife and a friend when they found the man, the man had a severe concussion and he was trapped in an icy area. That made it difficult for emergency workers to remove the body.
On a Christmas Day call with reporters, Trump that the partial government shutdown would continue until he got money for his wall. He also said that various government workers spoke to him and gave them support for this stance. Additionally, Trump insisted that work on the wall would carry on despite the funding shortage.
December 27, 2018
On December 27, Laila Jiwani, a 42-year-old mother of two, was killed by a falling tree on the Porter Creek Trail in the Smoky Mountains. Her six-year-old was also injured, but a Park service spokesman said that the young child’s injuries were non-threatening.
January 3, 2019
On January 3, 2019, the 116th Congress convened and the Democratically-held House of Representatives passed two bills to reopen the government. One bill would fund eight unfunded agencies through Sept. 30, 2019. The other bill would fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8. The Senate refused to take up the legislation and Trump threatened to veto it.
January 4, 2019
As the government shutdown neared the end of its second week, Donald Trump declared that it would continue for “months or even years” unless Democrats gave him the funding for his wall. Because of this statement, there was increased concern about what would happen with tax refunds and SNAP benefits. In particular, the effects of the shutdown would begin to hit hardest if the impasse persited into February.
In 2018, the Internal Revenue Service paid out $147.6 billion in tax refunds to 48.5 million households from late January to March 2. Similar numbers were expected this year as many Americans would choose to file their tax returns way before the April 15 deadline. However, if there was no funding for the Department of the Treasury by February, all tax returns would be delayed.
Currently, 38 million Americans received food stapms from the Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrician Assistance (SNAP) program, funding was only guaranteed up to February 2019. If the shutdown persisted into February, there was only $3 billion in emergency funds for the program, which would only cover about 64% of its expenses based on spending in Sept. 2018. That month, the last month for which figures were available, SNAP distributed $4.7 billion in benefits to recipients in all 50 states. Numerous nonprofits had pitched in to help with some of the unfunded departments, but none had approached what to do to make up for last SNAP benefits.
Additionally, the deadly accidents in national parks that occurred in late 2018 raised questions about the Trump administration’s decision to keep the parks open during the shutdown. By early January 2019, about 16,000 of the Park Service’s 19,000 employees were furloughed. Without the full staff, most parks were left with untended toilets and other essential services. In particular, without the staff, there was no one to warn park-goers about the dangers nor was there anyone to investigate accidents.
January 10, 2019
By Thursday, Jan. 10, about 4,500 people (3,745 federal employees and 822 federal contractors) had already filed for unemployment in Washington, D.C. About 85% of government workers and government contractors resided outside the nation’s capital. Most would be eligible to file for unemployment benefits, but they were subject to state laws. Also, many people receiving unemployment benefits would be required to pay back those benefits it they received back pay.
There were also updated about specific agencies impacted by the lack of funding during the shutdown:
- The Department of Housing and Urban development had to let 1,150 contracts with landlords expire. Another 500 were due to expire later in January and another 500 were going to expire in February. The department urged landlords not to evict beneficiaries of HUD programs since back pay was coming once the shutdown ended.
- The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (also known as D.C. Water) announced that the federal government was $5 million short of the $16.5 million owed to the water provider. However, according to Matthew Brown, the CFO, the water provider could go up to a year without payments by the federal government.
- Air traffic controllers employed by the Federal Aviation Administration lobbied lawmakers to end the shutdown. They were already facing 30-year lows in staffing across the country and they were due to miss their first paychecks on Jan. 15.
- The Food and Drug Administration would continue to inspect foreign foods and “high-risk” foods and facilities. However, the FDA suspended regular domestic food inspections.
- The U.S. Fish a Wildlife Service activated a 30-day plan to help staff 38 national wildlife refugees. Under that plan, some employees were called back and the agency used some money left over from its 2018 budget. Those employees who were called back were tasked with carrying out prescribed burns to manage areas, staff visitor centers, conducting maintenance, and working on environmental rules for hunting season in the fall.
- Some national parks were working on restoring basic services, but the National Park Service was due to lost $400,000 a day because of lost visitor’s fees.
January 11, 2019
On January 11, 2019, the shutdown entered its third week, careening dangerously close to becoming the longest in U.S. history. By this day, 800,00 government workers whose departments were affected missed their first paychecks.
By this point, at least three lawsuits had been filed by unions representing workers missing their paychecks. One such lawsuit was filed on Jan. 11 against the FAA by a union representing air traffic controllers.
There was also a looming threat that Trump would call a national emergency to build the wall. Under a national emergency, the president could divert funds from other projects to fund others. If Trump did such a thing for the wall, he could then sign a bill to reopen the government.
January 12-13, 2019
On Saturday, January 12, 2019, this government shutdown reached its 22nd day, becoming the longest in U.S. history. The previous record was set during the Clinton administration, beginning in 1995 and ending in early 1996, for a total of 21 days.
By this point, Americans began to hear who employees suffered personal hardships, which included being forced to sell their possessions due to missed paychecks and rationing medicine. Consumers were impacted because certain agencies were shut down. This includes those who were victims of identity theft.
January 14, 2019
On Monday, Jan. 14, some of the busiest airports in the country experienced major security delays. Among those airports mentioned were Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, and Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Most airports experiencing delays were understaffed and travelers reported missed flights and waits as long as 3 hours.
January 19, 2019
On Jan. 19, Trump made a speech from the White House. During the speech, Trump offered a deal for Democrats: If they approved $5.7 billion for wall funding, he would offer three years of protections for DACA recipients and immigrants with temporary protected (TPS) status.
January 23, 2019
The House passed a bill to reopen the government on Jan. 23, but Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was the only Democrat not to vote for the legislation. Her reason? The bill would fund Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency she criticized when running for Congress in 2018.
On the same day, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont) introduced a bill to bar federal employees from being forced to work without pay. He also made a tweet in which he said that this was the first time in U.S. history that people were forced to work without pay. He was quickly reminded about this thing called slavery. He quickly apologized in another tweet.
On a more urgent note, federal workers who were furloughed or otherwise missing their paychecks were in danger of losing their health insurance. The Office of Personal Management said that those employees would eventually face bills to pay for dental and vision insurance if the shutdown continued.
Additionally, Trump’s approval ratings suffered as more Americans blamed him for the impasse.
January 24, 2019
The Senate failed to pass either of two dueling bills to end the shutdown.
One bill, written by Republicans, included money to partially pay for Trump’s wall. It also included limited protections for immigrants. It was defeated on a 50-47 vote. Joe Manchin (D-West Virigina), Tom Cotton (R-Arkanas), and Mike Lee (R-Utah) broke with their parties on this vote.
The other bill, pushed by Democrats, left out funding for the wall. It fared slightly better than the Republican bill, but it was defeated by a 52-44 vote.
January 25, 2019
Both Houses of Congress finally came to an agreement as they passed legislation to open the government until at least Feb. 15. Trump announced that he would sign the legislation. The previous day, he tweeted that he would not cave. This led to lots of ribbing on Twitter, including from his own base.
Earlier that day, Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, gave a press conference in which she implored Congress to finally end the partial shutdown
I believe that this was the final straw.
Who Deserves the Credit for Ending the Shutdown?
Soon after the shutdown occurred, the hashtag #TrumpCaved trended on Twitter and many people started giving tremendous credit for the shutdown to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. There were others willing to give credit to the air traffic controllers and other workers.
Here’s the truth:
The workers deserve most, if not all the credit for bringing the shutdown to a close. Many went into work despite not being paid because their departments provided essential services.
The air traffic in particular controllers brought the shutdown to an end. That may have been the tipping point because even rich folks would be affected if this sector was understaffed or employees were not as alert as they needed to be.
Pelosi doesn’t deserve much credit, if any. The Democrats collectively don’t deserve credit. They only did what they were supposed to do.
I am surprised the Democrats didn’t cave, but there would be no excuse for giving up any wall money. This time, they may have felt enough pressure from the people that they did. Also, it was clear that they had a clear advantage over the Republicans. A loss here for the Democrats would have added insult to injury.
How Can We Avoid Shutdowns in the Future?
I have two ideas, but one of them would likely never happen.
The first idea I have is for the government to guarantee a basic funding level for all federal departments. Based on the number of employees on the payroll and their salaries, all of their salaries will be guaranteed for the current and upcoming fiscal year. Extra money may be included for essential services of those departments. This would essentially get rid of the shutdown and take away leverage that the president (or one political party) has, but the more important aspect is preventing government workers from missing paychecks.
The other idea I have is to withhold paychecks from all members of Congress, the president, and vice president if the budget isn’t passed on time. This type of law was passed in California, which was notorious for partisan budget fights and late budgets. After the law was passed, all budgets were passed on time.
Now, I know that the second idea would probably never happen. Members of Congress can raise their salaries because they have that constitutionally mandated power. There’s not way they’d give that up. We would need a constitutional amendment to change that, but there’s not way Congress would approve that, either.
An alternative would be for states where members of congress hold property and liquid assets to freeze those assets until a budget is passed . The point is that members of Congress should be forced to feel the pinch for messing with other government workers’ money.
Are You Watching the State of the Union Address?
I will not, but I will read up on summaries and look at the Democratic response, which will be given by Stacey Abrams this year.