TFK Explains: The Government Shutdown

February 2, 2018
BACK TO BUSINESS? At the U.S. Capitol on January 21, lawmakers work to reopen the government.
DREW ANGERER—GETTY IMAGES

On January 20, the United States government shut down for three days. Why? Here, TFK explains.

What is a shutdown?

A government shutdown happens when Congress cannot come together to approve a federal budget. Some functions of the U.S. government close until lawmakers can agree.

What happens when the government shuts down?

Only nonessential services are shut down. Some federal workers are furloughed, which means they are sent home and their pay is docked. (They can be paid later for this time off.) These jobs can include working at national parks or monuments. Essential services continue. These include the military, national security, and law enforcement. Post offices also stay open. But workers are not paid. “All of these people will be working for nothing, which is simply not fair,” Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters. In 2013, during the last shutdown, 850,000 government employees were furloughed.

Why couldn’t Congress agree on a budget?

Republicans and Democrats disagree on immigration. Democrats wanted the spending bill to include protections for Dreamers. These immigrants were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. In September, President Donald Trump announced that he would be ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. It shields about 700,000 Dreamers from being deported. The program is set to expire on March 5.

How was the disagreement resolved?

On January 22, Congress passed a short-term spending bill. The bill passed 81–18 in the Senate. The House voted 266–150. Trump signed the bill later that day. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers returned to their jobs. The bill will keep the government open until February 8. In return, Republicans have promised to restart discussions about the future of the Dreamers.

Has the government shut down before?

Yes. There have been 12 shutdowns since 1981. They lasted from one day to 21 days. The last shutdown was in 2013. It lasted 16 days. This shutdown lasted just 69 hours.

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