January 11, 2019 — Some Background on US Government Shutdowns

Many people, particularly those reading from abroad, may be wondering why the United States Government has these “shutdowns”. This post will provide some background. A good description can also be found on Wikipedia.

The United States Congress appropriates funds for operating the United States Government. Like any other legislation, these appropriations must be passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate and then signed by the United States President. If the President vetoes them, both houses muster a two-thirds majority vote to override the veto.

The Antideficiency Act prevents the Government from entering into a contract that is not “fully funded”. If there is a lapse of appropriations, a Government Agency must suspend all operations that are not required to protect the safety of human life or the protection of property. Those employees performing such duties (such as TSA agents) are considered essential and must continue to work. Other employees, such as myself, are furloughed, which means that we are essentially locked out from our work. Once funds are restored, everyone goes back to work and essential employees receive back pay. For furloughed employees, Congress must vote (and the President sign) legislation to provide pay for the days that employees were furloughed.

There are 12 appropriations bills that must be passed every year. Since the Federal Fiscal Year begins on October 1, these bills must be passed and signed by September 30. Sometimes, all or many of these bills are combined into an “omnibus” appropriations bill. If bills are not enacted, Congress may enact a temporary “continuing resolution” which funds the Government for a set period of time, allowing Congress to pass a full-year appropriation.

For 2019, Congress passed some appropriations, such as the Department of Defense, Social Security, and Medicare. However, many other parts of Government were not covered under an appropriations bill and were funded under a Continuing Resolution that expired at midnight, Saturday, December 22. The President refuses to sign any appropriations bill (even a Continuing Resolution) that does not contain $5.7 billion for a border wall separating the United States and Mexico. The House of Representatives will not pass an appropriation that funds the border wall. The Senate will not vote on any appropriation that will not be signed by the President. All three parties are at an impasse, waiting to see who will blink first. And so here we are, on day 20 of this shutdown.

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