Closed Departments Opens Conflict: An Overview of America’s Longest Government Shutdown


“It’s been over a month since the government was shut down.” The sentence seems to come straight from a dystopian novel at first glance – far too apocalyptic to describe our current predicament. The shutdown is not indicative of an apocalypse or the end of government as we know it. However, it has a significant impact on federal workers and the future of the nation – an impact that continues to grow as the shutdown continues.

Typically, a shutdown occurs when Congress cannot agree on the fiscal budget for the following year. A continuing resolution (CR) is enacted, which is used to fund the federal government while Congress determines the funding for the 12 federal departments. If there is no decision by the allotted time, the continuing resolution expires and a government shutdown begins.

In this case, the discrepancy between the House and the Senate lies in the requested funds for a border wall on America’s southern border opposite Mexico. The wall, a central aspect of now-President Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016, is a proposed solution to illegal immigration into the United States through the Mexican border. President Trump demands that 5.7 billion dollars be set aside to build the wall. Democrats, who took control of the House on the 12th day of the shutdown, are hesitant to agree – most believe that the wall is not an ideal solution to illegal immigration. However, the Republican Senate refuses to accept anything less than what President Trump has demanded, leading to a stalemate.

The shutdown has led to massive furloughing; 380,000 non-essential workers have been placed on unpaid leave. Workers deemed “essential” have been working without pay; News of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers operating airport screening without pay has sparked outrage. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security continue to operate normally, along with the United States Postal Service. Food stamps continue to be functional. Most departments are partially functional; For example, the Food and Drug Administration will still be inspecting high-risk foods like meats, but low-risk items will roll out with lax scrutiny. The IRS has also announced that tax returns will be processed according to its normal schedule despite the shutdown.

This is not the first time a government shutdown has occurred, nor is it the first shutdown during President Trump’s term. There have been 21 total shutdowns; However, it is worth noting that the majority of these happened over a few days. Previously, the longest government shutdown was initiated by President Bill Clinton and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich over budget-issues, spanning 21 days.

As federal workers enter a second month without stable pay, the public has begun to grow restless for a resolution. However, no end can be seen, as the political divide of Congress continues to interfere with the negotiation process. The ultimate outcome of the longest  government shutdown in American history remains to be seen.