The Government Has Officially Shut Down. Now What?

Yuval Rosenberg
The Fiscal Times January 20, 2018

Much of the federal government officially shut down just after midnight Saturday as the Senate failed to pass a short-term spending bill, allowing government funding to lapse for the first time since 2013.

The Senate vote late Friday night came after talks between President Donald Trump and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer failed to break an impasse over hot-button immigration issues. A scramble by senators to reach an alternative short-term deal also fizzled out.

In the end, the vote fell 10 shy of the 60 needed to proceed. Five Democratic senators from red states voted to keep the government open, and five Republicans came out against the measure, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose no vote was for procedural reasons.

Now, as Trump marks the one-year anniversary of being sworn into office today, hundreds of thousands of federal workers faced being furloughed and Congress faces the latest in a years-long string of governing crises.

Here’s what you need to know about how this drama might play out:

How long will the shutdown last?

The shutdown could be over quickly, though — or not. The Senate will reconvene at noon on Saturday. Lawmakers on both sides will keep talking over the weekend, and there’s at least a chance that they can reach an agreement that would minimize the impact of the shutdown, which won’t be felt in full until Monday, when government offices would normally open.

McConnell said after the failed vote that he will offer an amendment to the spending bill to have it fund the government through February 8 rather than February 16, a timeframe Schumer had rejected on Friday. “I hear there’s sentiment for that on both sides of the aisle,” McConnell said.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and others reportedly said that McConnell had agreed to allow a vote on a bipartisan bill addressing the fate of “dreamers,” immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children. But McConnell reportedly would not agree to tie that legislation to a must-pass bill, leaving its fate in the House in question, according to Politico.

Late-night comments from the White House were also less than promising for a speedy resolution. “We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement released just before the midnight deadline.

If Trump refuses to discuss an immigration deal until the government is reopened, or spurns another agreement reached in the Senate, Democrats might dig in as well and the shutdown could drag on longer.

What’s the political fallout from this mess?

With the midterm elections about 10 months away, the political stakes seem high and each side is, of course, pointing fingers at the other.

“Senate Democrats own the Schumer shutdown,” Sanders’ White House statement said.“Tonight they put politics above our national security, military families, vulnerable children, and our country’s ability to serve all Americans.”

But Schumer called it the Trump shutdown. “There is no one—no one—who deserves the blame for the position we find ourselves in more than President Trump,” he said.

Public opinion could be key in determining how long the shutdown lasts and who feels pressure to cave. One new poll found that Americans would blame Trump and the Republicans for a shutdown by a 20-point margin, but another poll released Friday was less encouraging for Democrats. It found that, while the public largely supports protections for “dreamers,” more than half of Americans said it was more important to keep the government open.

But given how Trump’s first year in office has gone, whichever party gets blamed and how the shutdown plays out over the coming hours, days or weeks might not matter much by Election Day. Or sooner.

“In the dizzying news cycle of the Trump era,” The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin writes, “voters can hardly remember what happened a few days ago.”


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