CliffNotes to the government shutdown

By Chelsea Vitone

Many people, including the global community, envision the United States as an all-powerful entity, a simply unstoppable juggernaut of political influence. But on October 1, 2013, the government stopped.

While many college aged students may be too young to remember, the recent government shutdown was not the first, nor will it likely be the last. In fact, there have been seventeen other shutdowns since 1977 according to the Congressional Research Service. The most recent conflict revolved around the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or “Obamacare.”

Congress is responsible for passing spending laws in order to stay under the debt ceiling which the Department of the Treasury defines as “the total amount of money that the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations.” If for any reason Congress cannot agree on a bill, it lacks the legal authority to spend any money and shuts down.

In 1995, under Clinton’s presidency, Congress submitted a bill covering education and environment, in addition to health care cost, which was vetoed by the President, resulting in a shutdown. Both then and now, the shutdowns were the product of a partisan inability to compromise.

With a volley of negotiations running throughout the end of September, the Republicans passed a last ditch effort spending bill on Monday, September 30, 2013, which extended the debt deadline until December 15, 2013, but under two strict conditions: the implementation of the ACA would be delayed for a year and the medical device tax, which collected billions of dollars in taxes, would need to be repealed.

Democrats fielded bill after bill, rejecting them based on the fact that each version included demands to defund the ACA which had been signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010. With no resolution before the beginning of the fiscal year, the government officially closed down.

The shutdown closed all non-essential services such as national parks , the Smithsonian, the National Zoo, archives and presidential libraries, the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, and more within twenty-four hours, unless funding was provided by state.  The majority of the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency also lost employees, unable to function at full force.

While many departments experienced suspension, there were a number of crucial services that remained active. The United States Postal Service still delivered mail, Veteran Affairs provided benefits, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program still enabled low-income families to receive food stamp benefits, and the IRS continued to collect taxes, but suspended audit action. Students need not worry about finances since student loans were not affected by government inactivity.

Since the government cannot afford to pay all of its employees, 800,000 non-essential employees and contractors were furloughed and many others were forced to work without pay.  Many military members and dependents feared interruption in pay, but the House voted 423-0 to pass a bill Sunday September 29, 2013. states this is a “free-standing measure promising military members, some federal civilians and some federal contractors will be paid even if funds for other government operations expire.” Obama signed the bill Monday September 30, 2013 after it passed the Senate unanimously earlier the same day.

After sixteen long days of conflict, Democrats and Republicans were finally able to pass a bill ending the government shutdown. For the first time in weeks there was a bipartisan agreement which enabled the U.S to continue borrowing money until January 14, 2014 and raise the debt ceiling until February 7, 2014 while the majority of the ACA remained intact.

This extension is not a permanent fix to the government’s debt crisis, but it provides a safety net to save the country from defaulting on its debt for the first time in history. The entire shutdown lasted less than three weeks, but the estimated cost to economy was “several billion dollars,”  USA Today says, referencing economic research firms.