Breaking down the Government Shutdown Showdown
By M Baqir Mohie El-Deen, MPAC Policy Program Manager
Our Congress passed a short-term appropriations bill that will fund our government until December 3rd, hours before a government shutdown, however, our legislatures are still gridlocked over the looming threat of defaulting on our federal debt in a short few weeks. What does this all mean to us? Here’s a breakdown of our budget, debt ceiling, and how it affects our nation.
The Federal Budget
Our budget is what funds all government-funded projects and employees. The United States is the most indebted nation in the world, ranking 14th per capita. Due to President Trump’s tax cuts and spending legislation enacted due to the coronavirus pandemic, our budget’s deficit nearly doubled over the past two years. However, this is not a new phenomenon that recently plagued our nation, it’s been an ongoing problem. The current budget process took effect in 1976, and our Congress successfully passed budgets until 1998. Since then, our Congress has failed to pass a budget 7 out of the past 15 years. A government shutdown threat should not be a norm in the United States, however over the past decade it’s almost become an annual occurrence.
More than the 2.1 million federal employees, 85% of which work outside of the beltway, having their livelihoods threatened, and many Americans rely on the federal spending through the different federally funded programs. In essence, Congress’ failure to pass a budget is holding all the beneficiaries of federal spending hostage. Some of those beneficiaries are the current Afghan refugees who recently arrived in the United States. Our nation waged war on their adoptive homeland, and after 20 years failed to eliminate the enemy. Due to our nation’s failure in Afghanistan these refugees were forced to flee their native homeland to the United States, and upon their arrival here, many of which with nothing but the clothes on their backs, inherit the mess of our government not being able to properly sustain them.
Added to this ongoing congressional chaos is our national debt reaching the maximum permitted debt, or debt ceiling. Debt ceiling is the amount of money that our government can borrow through bond sales. That money is used to pay our government’s obligations, like social security, tax refunds, medicare reimbursements, 401(k), pensions, and more, since we spend more than our government collects through taxes. Our debt ceiling has been regularly increased since it’s 1917 introduction, and our government has never defaulted on its debt. If we default on our debt, which is set to happen later this month, our Treasury’s secretary, Janet Yellen states that “a historic financial crisis” will most likely occur.
What does this mean?
It means that our bicameral Congress must accept compromises from the latter party, or send the nation towards chaos. In essence, the two parties are playing a game of chicken at our expense. Any financial crisis in this nation, the first victims will be those who are disenfranchised. Democrats, who see this as a golden opportunity to pass through much of their ambitious legislation, do not want to concede to the minority party. The minority party, on the other hand, has enough power to block these efforts unless their demands are met. And they have less to lose. If Congress does not reach an agreement to increase our debt ceiling soon, then the minority party will be able to go around the nation notifying citizens that the Democrats have failed us, and their leadership in Congress and the White House has sent the nation into chaos. The only thing that holds back the Republicans from formally pushing for that scenario is if the U.S. government defaults on its debt; Americans who will be financially affected may vote against their members of Congress in the upcoming midterm elections, regardless of what party those members may belong to.
In summary, the majority party does not have enough votes to push through their agenda without some minority support, while the minority party has more to gain in the near future through government failure. Our two parties are playing a game of Russian Roulette. And we, the everyday Americans, are facing the bullet-end of the barrel.