(PresidentialInsider.com) – Government shutdowns are a fact of life in the US. They’ve happened around 20 times since 1980, and in the last few years they’ve been more frequent. In 2018 there were three, all caused by Democrat opposition to President Trump’s border wall. It looks like they’re something we’re going to have to get used to — so what do they actually mean?
What Causes a Shutdown?
Shutdowns happen when government spending bills expire, and Congress doesn’t pass legislation to renew the funding. Since a 1980 legal opinion issued by Carter administration Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, any gap in funding means the government has to shut down. Federal agencies and departments are only allowed to continue activities required to protect life or property, or if “authorized by law.”
The effects of a shutdown depend on how much of the government’s funding hasn’t been authorized. For example, if a department’s spending bill has been signed, it can continue as normal – this falls under “authorized by law.” However, if its appropriations have stalled in Congress or been vetoed by the president, the results can be dramatic – and potentially dangerous.
The good news is it’s not Chinese invasion dangerous – active duty military stay on duty whatever happens, along with many of the DOD’s civilian employees. You’ll still get the mail too, because USPS operational funding is outside the congressional appropriations system.
What Does Shut Down?
Many other vital functions shut down, though. Here are some things that have happened in previous years:
- Hiring of federal law enforcement officers can be halted, sometimes leaving agencies dangerously short-staffed.
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) can stop disease surveillance, our main tool for identifying potential epidemics. This can delay the response and put lives at risk.
- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) may shut down their disease hotlines, making it even harder to track them and denying patients advice.
- Safety inspections on food, consumer products and workplaces can be halted. This could delay new products or even force businesses to close until the shutdown ends.
- The IRS might not be able to verify income and social security numbers – and that can hold up a loan or mortgage application. During a 2013 shutdown, 1.2 million requests backed up in the system.
- The FDA might be unable to check and approve new medications, which delays them going on the market.
- National parks, museums and monuments may be closed.
- If you work for a federal agency that isn’t funded there’s a very high chance you’ll be furloughed without pay until the shutdown is over.
Despite all the things the government stops doing during a shutdown, it doesn’t save any money. When Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) said “it cost us more to shut the government down than to keep it open,” Politifact rated that as true. A shutdown means lost revenues from parks and museums, interest or penalty fees on delayed government payments and compensation to furloughed workers. That all adds up to more national debt, which taxpayers are going to have to pay down some day.
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