Countdown to another US government shutdown. Here’s why they happen so often

A shutdown of the US government could be just days away.

A shutdown of the US government could be just days away. Photo: Getty

The US government is just days away from a shutdown, which will affect millions of Americans.

A ‘shutdown’ is when federal agencies are forced to discontinue any non-essential discretionary functions, due to the lack of budget.

At a Republican-led impeachment inquiry of US President Joe Biden, Democrats made a bold statement.

“If Republicans had a smoking gun or even a dripping water pistol they would be presenting it today. But they’ve got nothing,” said Jamie Raskin, the panel’s top Democrat.

Next to Raskin was his open laptop, bearing a “Republican Shutdown” countdown clock.

The countdown ends at midnight on Saturday, when the US government will enter its fourth partial shutdown in a decade if Congress fails to pass legislation to fund federal agencies.

Why might a shutdown happen?

Earlier this year, Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy and Biden had aimed to head off a shutdown when they agreed in May, at the end of a stand-off over the federal debt ceiling, to discretionary spending of $US1.59 ($2.48) trillion for the fiscal year beginning on October 1.

The US Senate managed to pass a bill overnight that would fund the government until November this year, however, the trouble lies in the House, where right-wing congressional Republicans are seeking more public spending cuts.

Those hardline conservatives who are holding things up want federal spending to be cut by 8 per cent in many agencies and are demanding much tougher border security measures, which even some Republicans have deemed too extreme.

Not all Republicans are pushing for the cuts, as some are willing to work with the Democrats.

“What the extreme [Make America Great Again] MAGA Republicans are effectively saying to us, unless you cut Social Security, slash public school funding, criminalise abortion care … we’re shutting down the government,” said House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, according to CBS News. 

The split between the two chambers suggests the federal government is increasingly likely to enter its fourth shutdown in a decade on Sunday, a pattern of partisan gridlock that has begun to darken Wall Street’s view of US government credit.

Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy prevented a shutdown earlier this year.

What is a government shutdown?

By the start of the federal fiscal year, on October 1, Congress needs to pass 12 appropriations bills to fund various agencies within the government.

If the politicians in Washington fail to do so, non-essential federal functions will be suspended indefinitely. As no bills have passed, it is likely a shutdown will happen.

“Without approved funding, federal agencies must enact contingency plans to operate on a limited basis — such as requiring some essential employees to work without pay for the duration of the shutdown,” explained.

However, it doesn’t just affect federal workers, it could affect many US households, as some government services will either cease during the shutdown, or operate in a limited capacity.

According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, things like social security, Medicare, environment and food inspection, national parks and air travel could be affected if there is a shutdown.

In previous shutdowns, border protection, in-hospital medical care, air traffic control, law enforcement, and power grid maintenance have all been deemed essential.

Does the US government shut down often?

There have been 20 shutdowns of the government in the past 40 years, NBC News reported.

Some have lasted a day or two, but the longest happened under Donald Trump. It started in December 2018 and lasted 35 days and cost the US economy $11 billion.

During those 35 days, 350,000 federal employees were furloughed without pay and 420,000 were required to work without pay, Axios reported.

Shutdowns have happened under Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George HW Bush, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.

Federal government shutdowns have become so common in recent years that forecasters have a good read on how another one would affect the American economy,” Jim Tankersley and Madeleine Ngo wrote in The New York Times.

“The answer is fairly simple: The longer a shutdown lasts, the more damage it is likely to inflict.”

What has Trump got to do with it?

Donald Trump might not hold office currently, but he did urge Republicans to shut down the government.

According to Trump, shutting down the government is the “last chance” to “defund the political prosecutions” against him and other “patriots”.

“Republicans in Congress can and must defund all aspects of Crooked Joe Biden’s weaponised Government,” Trump wrote on Truth Social.

“Permanent indefinite appropriations” would go ahead, even if there was a shutdown, the US Justice Department previously said, according to Reuters.

Trump went on another tirade on Truth Social just days later, once again calling for a shutdown.

“The Republicans lost big on Debt Ceiling, got NOTHING, and now are worried that they will be BLAMED for the Budget Shutdown. Wrong!!! Whoever is President will be blamed, in this case, Crooked (as Hell!) Joe Biden!” he wrote.

He then stated the country was being “destroyed” by the “Radical Left, Marxists, Fascists and Thugs” and added unless the Republicans “get everything” it needed to be shut down.

“Close the Border, stop the Weaponisation of “Justice,” and End Election Interference – WE MUST HAVE HONEST ELECTIONS. It’s time Republicans learned how to fight!” he wrote, seemingly oblivious to the irony.

“Are you listening Mitch McConnell, the weakest, dumbest, and most conflicted “Leader” in U.S. Senate history?” Trump wrote.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden has asked lawmakers to do what they were elected to do.

“Funding the government is one of the most basic responsibilities of Congress,” Biden said.

“It’s time for Republicans to start doing the job America elected them to do.”

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