The US government shutdown has major implications for various aspects of public services, the economy, and the livelihoods of Americans
In a politically charged climate marked by deep ideological divisions, the United States stands just days away from another potential government shutdown. The impasse, driven by right-wing congressional Republicans demanding deep spending cuts, has thrown the functioning of the federal government into jeopardy. As the clock ticks towards the midnight deadline on September 30, America braces for the possibility of a shutdown and its disastrous consequences.
The central figure at the heart of this upheaval is Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who has found himself under fire from members of his own party. These far-right Republicans, organised under the “Freedom Caucus,” are displeased with the spending limits McCarthy agreed to with President Joe Biden. They perceive these limits as too generous and are urgently seeking more substantial cuts in federal spending, including military aid to Ukraine.
What Happens During a Government Shutdown?
A government shutdown has major implications for various aspects of public services, the economy, and the livelihoods of Americans. Thousands of federal government employees would be placed on furlough, instructed not to report to work, and left without pay for the duration of the shutdown. However, their salaries are typically paid retroactively when the shutdown ends. Certain government workers providing essential services, such as air traffic controllers and law enforcement officials, would continue to work but would not receive their salaries until Congress acts to end the shutdown.
Depending on the duration, national parks may either shut down entirely or remain open but without certain vital services like public toilets and attendants. Passport processing and research at national health institutes may also come to a halt. The Biden administration has issued warnings that federal inspections ensuring food safety and the prevention of dangerous materials being released into drinking water could cease during a shutdown. Approximately 10,000 children might lose access to Head Start, a federally funded program designed to promote school readiness among toddlers, especially in low-income families.
For the first two centuries of the United States’ existence, government shutdowns did not occur. It is only in recent decades, marked by increasing political polarisation and brinkmanship in Washington, that shutdowns have become more common. Since 1976, when the US shifted the start of its fiscal year to October 1, there have been 20 federal funding gaps.
The Latest Impending Shutdown & Response
McCarthy and other Republican leaders are exploring the possibility of deploying a stopgap spending measure called a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open until October 31 while efforts continue to agree on final spending bills for 2024. However, even this proposal has failed to win approval from the Freedom Caucus members. They demand that the CR include more conservative policies, such as addressing “woke policies” and the “weaponisation of the Department of Justice.”
The standoff raises concerns about the potential economic impact. The 2018-2019 shutdown imposed a short-term cost of $11 billion on the United States economy, with an estimated $3 billion never recovered after the stoppage ended. Economists warn that the effects of a shutdown now could be compounded by other unrelated events, including the impact of inflationary pressures and the United Auto Workers’ strike against major car manufacturers.
President Joe Biden has been trying to use his influence to spotlight the Republican holdouts and emphasise that they should be held accountable if a shutdown occurs. He underlined the potential repercussions, including military members working without pay. With the consequences ranging from disruptions in government services to economic turmoil, the path ahead remains uncertain, and the implications of this political deadlock extend beyond government, affecting the daily lives of millions of Americans and an already troubled world economy.