US Government shutdown: What's it all about?

US government shutdown: The latest Donald Trump disaster

The US Government shutdown means non-essential services close

Monday, January 22, 2018

The US Government has shut down and, predictably, the media has piled into Donald Trump with talk of chaos and confusion at the sharp end of American politics.

Is this the reality, though? Well the truth is actually a bit more complicated than some of the more hysterical Trump-haters would have you believe. 

The bare financials don't make good reading. Government shutdowns are thought to cost the country about $6.5 billion (£4.7 billion) per week, according to analysis. Trump and his government will certainly want to restore power as soon as possible.

But it's worth bearing in mind that this isn't the first time the government has shut down and it is unlikely to be the last. The most recent government shutdown, in fact, was back in 2013 and that impasse, catalysed by Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, went on for 16 days. So at least that's something for Trump supporters to point to.

In essence, the shutdown isn't about money at all, but about migration - a keynote theme of Trump's regime. It's been triggered by the Democrats, who have refused to vote through an emergency spending bill to keep the government running. Lawmakers had until midnight yesterday (Sunday) to pass the bill but were unable to reach a breakthrough.

Democrats had insisted that the Government must also enshrine protections for the 700,000 'Dreamers' - undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children - as part of the deal. The Dreamers were granted temporary legal status under Barack Obama's administration but Trump has moved to rescind this.

Republicans have in turn stuck to their guns, saying no government is possible while federal government services are closed. Trump has, not untypically, poured fuel on the fire by tweeting that his party is "fighting for our military and safety at the border" while the Democrats "just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked."

While migration is a direct cause of the current stand-off, it's worth remembering that the Government has actually been running on borrowed time for three months. Funding was due to run dry in October, but multiple stop-gap measures have provided stays of execution, until now.

 

The upshot is that certain government agencies have to close temporarily, and while essential services such as power supplies, law enforcement and air traffic control will continue as normal, a whole lot of people will be affected - including the government employees themselves, many of whom have been given an enforced leave of absence, unpaid.

 

Will this mess be sorted out? Well a vote is scheduled to take place today (January 22) on a fresh tranche of funding, which would allow the government to keep ticking over until February 8.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised to complete a deal on immigration with the Democrats by this time, in the hopes of meeting their conditions and ensuring cross-party support for the deadlock-busting legislation.

One imagines that, given the importance of the Dreamers issue, the Democrats will want to get the government back up and running as soon as possible, meaning that the shutdown will not last too long.

Nonetheless, the current gridlock is another embarrassing and highly inconvenient episode for Donald Trump - suggesting that his second year of office is going to be just as turbulent as the first.