US & Canada

US government shutdown: How did we get here again?

Lincoln Monument in 2013 shutdown Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Monuments and parks closed for more than two weeks in 2013

Outsider observers would be forgiven for being a little mystified at news that the US is - yet again - days away from a potential government shutdown. What is going on?

When is the deadline?

A spending bill - called an appropriations bill in US political parlance - must be passed by both Houses of Congress and signed by President Donald Trump by midnight on Friday 28 April.

If that does not happen, the federal government effectively closes its doors, although emergency services would continue.


Haven't we been here before?

Yes, several times. Most recently in 2013 for 16 days, when Republicans demanded the spending bill have provisions to strip funding from Obamacare or delay its implementation.

National monuments and parks were closed and hundreds of thousands of government workers put on unpaid leave. Only one person was left to patrol the 5,525 mile (8,891km) border with Canada.

Before 2013, there was a shutdown for 18 days in 1978 and two under Bill Clinton in 1995 and 1996.

10 consequences of the US shutdown in 2013


Who is putting the bill together?

There are appropriation committees in both House and Senate that write the legislation, which is then reviewed and amended by the leadership in both parties and the White House.


Wasn't everything looking good for it to pass?

Yes, it was. The noises coming out of the committees were that agreement was very close.

But in recent days, extra provisions requested by the White House put a considerable spanner in the works. They wanted some funding for the border wall, but that seems to have softened now.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is confident of a deal: "We're hoping to reach an agreement in the next few days on how to process the entire bill through September 30th."


What does the White House want on the wall?

Image copyright Twitter
Image copyright Twitter

This central campaign promise of a wall on the Mexico border provided a rallying cry - literally - among his supporters.

But it now comes with an estimated price tag of $22bn and faces opposition from Texas border Republicans, other Republicans worried about the cost and all Democrats.

It had been expected to be dealt with at a later date but the White House has insisted it wants the first tranche of money for the wall to be in the spending bill.

Democrats say no way and it appears that Mr Trump has backed down.

The president had always insisted that Mexico would pay for the wall but they have said they won't, so now he says they will pay later.

Trump backs down on border wall funding


Any other sticking points?

Take your pick:

  • defunding women's healthcare group Planned Parenthood
  • increasing military spending
  • ending subsidies to Obamacare recipients

If any of the above are attached to the spending bill, expect strong resistance from Democrats.

Unlike with the Cabinet appointments or the Supreme Court nominee (after a change in the rules), the Democratic votes are crucial. That's because the spending bill needs 60 votes to pass the Senate and the Republicans only have 52 votes from their party.


So what's probably going to happen?

One of the following:

  • a so-called continuing resolution that buys more time and continues current funding levels - likely
  • the White House backs down and Congress passes a "clean" bill with no strings - very unlikely
  • the Democrats concede defeat, hold their nose and help pass the bill - not going to happen

What date should we pencil in our diaries for the next shutdown fight?

Probably wise. Mark it down for 1 October 2017. That's the end of the present fiscal year, the period covered by this bill.

The president has already outlined his budget priorities for the next fiscal year, and he will submit his proposal by the end of May, after federal agencies and Congress have kicked it around.

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