We are approaching 48 hours since the United States Government shut down. This latest shut down came one year to the day that Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.
For those of you unsure about how the process works, here’s a brief summary of the situation: if Congress is unable to agree on any spending plans, then no money can be spent by the federal government. If no money can be spent, then the government shuts down. This can often – but not always – mean that non-essential government services are halted and government workers get sent home until such a time that Congress can reach an agreement on spending plans. At that point, normal service can resume within the federal government.
In this case, federal government spending plans failed to pass through the US Senate, having cleared the House of Representatives last week. The Republican Bill failed to attract the support of enough Democrats; there is a whole multitude of reasons why individual Democratic Senators might not have supported the bill, but significant disagreements over funding for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA, also referred ti as “Dreamers”) and the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) contributed to the stalemate. In order to pass through the Senate, the spending plans require the support of 60 of the 100 Senators, rather than the usual 50 percent plus one. With 51 Republican Senators currently serving in the chamber, there is no way that the plans can pass without reasonable levels of support from the Democrats.
Political figures have been quick to point the finger of blame over the matter. The shutdown has been described by the President and much of the Washington Republican Party as the “Schumer Shutdown”, after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was prepared to let the government shut down if he was not able to get his way in the agreement. The House Republican Conference even dedicated an entire website to describing the numbers of children whose CHIP coverage would expire as a result of Schumer’s shutdown. Schumer fired back, however, calling the shutdown the “Trump Shutdown”, saying that nobody other than the President possessed responsibility. The President, meanwhile, weighed in with comments that the Democrats were putting the military at risk with the shutdown, having previously goaded matters by previously saying on Twitter that the government “needed a good ‘shutdown'”.
So who is really to blame for the shutdown? Is it President Donald Trump, due to his rhetoric and the fact it is he at whom the buck stops on every issue in the US government? Is it Mitch McConnell and the Republicans, for failing to include items in the spending plan which would have attracted the support of Democrats in the Senate? Or is it Chuck Schumer and the Democrats who (aside from those Democratic Senators who supported the plans) were prepared to let the government shut down by not supporting the spending plans?
The fact is that all three are partly responsible. The bill ultimately cannot pass without support from the Democrats; the Republicans cannot pass the spending plans by themselves, and so Schumer is perfectly aware that his party’s inaction will shut down the government. However, the Republicans are the controlling party in Washington, and it is their plans which ultimately will go for approval. In any case, it is the responsibility of both parties in Congress to work together to reach a bipartisan agreement on federal spending. Meanwhile, the President’s lack of real engagement and stoking of anger on both sides detracts from constructive debate. While the Senate will reconvene on Sunday night in the hope of reaching an agreement on spending, and while many Senators are already working on one, the President’s rhetoric along with both parties’ Senate leadership digging their heels in is not helpful at a time where real bipartisan work needs to be done.
If there is one piece of information to take away from this, however, it is that the current shutdown serves as evidence that controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress does not guarantee a party will be able to get anything done. The White House and both chambers of Congress are under Republican control, and they have not been able to avert a funding gap in spite of this. Indeed, of the seventeen federal funding gaps which have taken place since 1976, six of them have occurred when all three entities were controlled by the same party. A further eight took place when there was a divided Congress, and only three when Congress was controlled by the opposing party to the President. The table below shows the partisan control of the White House and Congress during shutdowns since 1976. Incidentally, George W. Bush is the only President since 1976 to have avoided a shutdown during his time in office.
Uniform control in Washington is no guarantee that a shutdown can be avoided – as both Democrats and Republicans know.
There is little that can be done at this point until both parties in the Senate are able to reach an agreement about federal government spending plans. Some Senators, including Susan Collins (R-ME) hope that the government will be able to start up again between Sunday night and Monday morning. We can hope that an agreement will be reached later today, but unless the President, McConnell and Schumer can stop placing blame and start placing deals on the table, there is not much hope of this happening tonight.