top of page
  • Writer's pictureLindsey Kim

US Government Shutdown Over Border Security Dispute

Updated: Aug 24, 2020


The shutdown of the United States federal government was announced on December 22, 2018, and continued into the New Year, currently heading into its fourth week. This particular government shutdown is closely tied to President Trump’s financial requests, partisan politics, and the current state of federal finances.

This most recent shutdown is more than just a suspension of pay for federal employees, or an indication of government debt; the shutdown also represents a culmination of varied disagreements and controversial policies, raising certain questions. What exactly does a shutdown mean for Americans? Which policies created a tipping point in Congress? Who are the primary actors in this event?

Federal government shutdowns aren’t new. The last two occurred during President Trump’s presidency, in January of 2018 and in February 2018—three days and one day in duration, respectively. Previous to these was a shutdown during President Obama’s office, occurring in October 2013 for sixteen days. The very first federal government shutdown in history began with President Gerald Ford on September 30 to October 11, 1976, as a product of Congress passing the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act (which created the Congressional Budget Office, moved the beginning of the fiscal year, and created Congressional budget committees). Since then, there have been twenty-one shutdowns in American history, including the ongoing shutdown.

The cause of a shutdown is that Congress fails to pass the bills necessary to fund Federal agencies, or those bills are vetoed. This means that all “non-essential” parts of the Federal government are shut down, which means that those employees who maintain those parts are unpaid for however long the shutdown lasts. Approximately 380,000 workers have been ordered to stay home, and 420,000 employees deemed “essential” still currently work without getting paid. In fact, 6,000 of the 7,000 Secret Service members are expected to continue their work as normal, unpaid. Most of these workers are promised to be reimbursed for their lost pay, according to a bill passed by both the House and the Senate, but now the bill lies in President Trump’s hands, and he’s made no move to approve such an act. There’s no policy requiring reimbursement, but this is legislation that has been passed in the past. Some of President Trump’s comments have made the possibility of the shutdown ending soon dubious.

One of the main causes of this shutdown is President Trump’s desire for approximately $5.7 billion to be allotted to build a wall across the Mexican-American border. This idea is far from new—the wall was one of the promises of President Trump’s 2016 campaign. The wall has created an impasse between some Republicans and Democrats, because the December 2018 finance bills were widely opposed by Democrats. The bills promising funding for many departments of government included the $5.7 billion, and President Trump was unrelenting in including that wall plan in the spending bills. Thus, due to the disagreement between parties and the wall’s funding, the bills were not passed and negotiations continue. President Trump’s other choice to fund border security is with a bipartisan bill that allots $1.6 billion for border security and fencing. One alternative to the Congress stagnation is that Trump may possibly try to invoke “emergency powers” to pass wall funding. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has revealed that Democrats are willing to compromise with Republicans over a broad immigration reform deal, but nothing is currently set in stone.

The idea of a campaign promise is critical: President Trump’s support by many Americans was bolstered by his promise to build a wall between Mexico and America. Also during his campaign, he promised that Mexico would be paying for the wall: now changing that fact by using American tax dollars instead. Though his second year of presidency is the first time a major event has occurred due to Trump pushing the wall funding, support for the wall was one of his signature sayings. If Trump does not hold up his promise—or, at least, make a substantial fight to try—support for his next election may be undermined by disappointed voters.

Many Federal workers are currently struggling under the burden of monetary strain, and recent data indicates that across America, the financial problems persist. Some government workers are in the 78% of workers in the US that live paycheck to paycheck. There are a few independent companies who support unpaid workers, but the majority is still impacted. The combined monthly mortgage payments of all workers who cannot pay totals up to $249 million, according to online firm Zillow. Some of the 800,000 workers affected by the shutdown have opted to take action: The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has filed a lawsuit for its unpaid workers, being punished without “due process”. A Federal workers’ union has sued because of the fact that many “essential” workers still have to work without pay. Protests take place in Washington, D.C. in front of the White House, and most likely will continue until the workers are allowed to start working again.

The effects of a shutdown don’t just harm the employees under Federal pay—the entire nation is impacted. Nine of the Federal departments have drastically low or no funding at all. Mortgage and multiple other application types go unapproved, and though tax returns during the shutdown have been approved, the workers doing the returning are unpaid. Companies dealing in internationally sourced metal parts cannot secure approval to waive the President’s metal tariffs. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—a program which aids about 40 million people—is estimated to run out of funding by the month’s end. The FDA will cease the regular examination of “high-risk” foods. Other than those specific effects, many national parks are closed, and some museums. People can still apply for passports and unpaid TSA agents still regulate the open airports, though.

The current shutdown has set the record for the longest Federal shutdown in American history, beating President Clinton’s 1995 record shutdown for twenty-one days as Trump’s passed twenty-two on Saturday. As many workers struggle to make ends meet, strained partisan politics persist in D.C., and Trump holds tight to his ideology, the nation also experiences the effects of a crippled Federal government.



bottom of page