NEWS
22/01/2018 14:33 GMT | Updated 23/01/2018 08:19 GMT

The US Government Shutdown Explained For Brits

Where's Trump?

LATEST: A solution has been found but the “Dreamers” aren’t happy.

Imagine a fall-out between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn that led to hundreds of thousands of public sector workers being told to go home without any pay.

On top of this, these temporarily jobless individuals would have fewer options of how to pass their time - all government-funded parks and museums are closed.

It seems far-fetched and thankfully in the UK it is. The USA is an entirely different matter - it’s happening right now and is already into its third day.

VitaliyPozdeyev via Getty Images
Dark days in Washington.

How did it come to this? Essentially a disagreement between Republicans and Democrats about immigration means the world’s most powerful government is currently not funded.

WHAT IS A GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN?

Pretty much exactly what it sounds like - the closing of (some) government agencies and federally controlled buildings and sites.

Those deemed “essential” are spared but employees of the rest (around 40%) are placed on unpaid leave and told not to work.

A shutdown results from an impasse in the US Government when Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on what should be included in the latest spending bill.

WHAT CAN’T THEY AGREE ABOUT?

At the heart of the disagreement are 700,000 young, undocumented immigrants called “Dreamers” who, under President Obama, were granted temporary legal status.

The Trump administration has a very different view on immigration and has moved to take away these protections, something the Democrats oppose.

WHOSE FAULT IS IT?

This depends on who you ask.

Trump says it’s the fault of the Democrats:

The Democrats say it’s Trump’s fault:

And Bernie Sanders say’s it’s all part of a sinister-sounding plot financed by two very wealthy siblings.

(Bernie might be on to something though - Republican House Speaker, Paul Ryan, collected nearly $500,000 (£359,500) in campaign contributions from billionaire energy mogul Charles Koch and his wife, according to a recent campaign donor report, just days after helping pass a law slashing corporate taxes.)

WHAT IS ACTUALLY CLOSED?

PARKS AND LANDMARKS

During the last shutdown (see below) all national parks, zoos and monuments, as well as Smithsonian museums, closed, sparking a subsequent public outcry from both Americans and tourists.

Trump appears to have taken a lesson from this and has moved to keep as many of them as he can open with mixed results.

At the time of writing the Grand Canyon was accepting visitors but others were partially shut.

FilippoBacci via Getty Images
Monument Valley - open, for now.

Those that do open will likely see reductions in staffing a move seen as “incredibly idiotic” as park services may be able to live up to their stewardship responsibilities.

And in what many saw as a sad irony, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island were both closed over the weekend.

These Brazilian tourists were disappointed but still looked remarkably chipper about the whole affair.

Thankfully New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo announced the landmarks would reopen on Monday and took the opportunity to make a poignant political point too.

Other tourist hotspots aren’t so lucky though - the Liberty Bell Centre and Independence Hall did no open on Monday.

Tragically, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington is also affected meaning its panda cameras are offline.

UPDATE: Pandacam is now online!

HEALTH

One important loss during the shutdown will be much of the work of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) right at the height of flu season.

A pause in research into flu subtypes could have a knock-on effect to next year as there is less time to identify and prepare the vaccines that will be needed.

EDUCATION

While schools will remain open, disadvantaged children in the Head Start program - around 6,300 across six states - may have to stay at home.

This also has a knock-on effect as parents will have to find suitable childcare arrangements if they want to go to work.

WHAT HASN’T BEEN SHUT DOWN?

If closing it would result in immediate chaos or death, it stays open. Such as:

  • Air traffic control and airports
  • Prisons
  • Law enforcement and border control
  • The courts
  • Social Security
  • The military, but...

Military personnel get a particularly rough deal - they still have to work but don’t get paid.

Rubbing salt in the wound is the fact that members of Congress will have to work but do get paid although a coalition of senators has proposed a bill that would prevent them from getting a wage during the shutdown..

The military issue has been seized upon by Trump and his team...

... but in a piece for CNN, Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, took issue with this politicisation, writing:

“If you’re a politician, and your JOB is to pass a budget, do your JOB. Stop wasting time in giving speeches that use the military as either a shield to make excuses or as a tool to drive a political agenda. Those in uniform can see right through that. Plus, they have other, more important things to do and they need your support, not your pandering.” 

The Republican’s politicising also rung hollow when they objected to a Democratic move to pay the military during the shutdown.

One thing that will not close, much to Trump’s disappointment is Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US Presidential election.

Or, as the President refers to it: 

The Justice Department has confirmed employees in Mueller’s office are exempt from the shutdown and can continue their work as his office is not funded through the regular congressional appropriations process.  

SPEAKING OF TRUMP, WHERE IS HE?

Nowhere yet and he’s not planning to be either by the looks of his schedule.

Over the weekend the White House issued an official photograph of Trump purportedly hard at work.

WHAT ABOUT AMERICANS IN THE UK?

Any US citizens in the UK needing the services of the embassy in London should be OK although the person who runs their Twitter account appears to be at a loose end.

HAS IT HAPPENED BEFORE?

There have been 18 government shutdowns since the modern congressional budgeting process took effect in 1976.

The most recent occurred from the 1st to the 16th October 2013, under former President Barack Obama, over a dispute between Republicans and Democrats over the Affordable Care Act.

The shutdown cost the US economy at least $24 billion (£17.28 billion), according to the financial ratings agency Standard & Poor’s.

WHY IS THIS TIME PARTICULARLY BAD FOR THE REPUBLICANS?

Although shutdowns have happened before this is the first time one has occurred when the party in power controls both Congress and the White House.

Essentially Republicans have control of the US Government but have failed in their attempt to fund it - hardly a ringing endorsement.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

If the Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on a deal then the shutdown continues with, as a guide, the average length of the previous occurrences being around seven days.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rescheduled a vote on a measure to fund government operations through to 8th February.

At the US Capitol, a group of bipartisan senators met on Monday morning in search of a deal but came out disagreeing on whether progress was made.

“We’re in a pretty good space right now,” Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said as she left the meeting.

But Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said senators remained in a stalemate.

White House legislative director Marc Short told the Fox Business Network he did not believe the Senate would get the 60 votes needed to move on funding legislation that would reopen government.

Republicans control both the House of Representatives and the Senate, where they have a slim 51-49 majority. But most legislation requires 60 Senate votes to pass, giving Democrats leverage.