The 2018-19 American government shutdown lasted 35 days and affected the lives of over 800,000 federal workers. It was one of the most divisive in history, beginning because of a spending bill but becoming about the bitter rivalry between modern Democrats and Republicans. The shutdown has been at the center of the current political atmosphere in America, which has become hostile and divided over this issue.
The main reason for the shutdown is Congress’s spending bill. Congress had been looking to pass a long-term spending bill for a while, but could not get any momentum due to both parties fighting over additions to the bills. Democrats wanted an immigration deal in the spending bill, specifically to protect Dreamers, or children who came to America under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. Republicans, on the other hand, wanted more money for border security and defense, specifically $5.7 billion dollars for the border wall President Trump promised during his campaign. The main conflict between these parties came from the amount of money that would be allotted to these issues, which was debated in Congress in the weeks leading up to the shutdown.
Amid these discussions, President Trump, who has always prided himself on being a master negotiator, handled this situation very poorly. Even Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a supporter of Trump, said that he was “looking for something that President Trump supports, and he has not yet indicated what measure he is willing to sign”. Without clear indications of what Republicans wanted, Democrats were unable to offer any sort of compromise even if they had wanted to cave prior to the shutdown. In the beginning of negotiations, though, neither side was really pushing for resolution, because the threat of a shutdown was being used in order to force one side’s hand. The only problem was that it backfired for both sides, as they both became more stubborn about their positions until the threat of a shutdown became a reality. President Trump even once announced that he was “proud to shut down the government”. Lawmakers originally seemed to welcome a government shutdown, thinking it would help them get their way, without realizing the consequences it had on their constituents.
All of these factors adding onto each other culminated in a showdown that was the longest government shutdown in history. The tension continued to build between parties as the length of the shutdown grew, but with it grew Americans’ disdain for the stubbornness of their lawmakers at the expense of their livelihoods. It took things like #ShutdownStories trending on Twitter for both Democrats and Republicans to realize the cost their positions had on the people.
In the end, President Trump chose to reopen the government for three weeks starting on January 25, 2019, during which time the debate would continue. The long-term spending bill did eventually pass before the bill to reopen the government expired, with 1.375 billion given to border security and 1.7 billion for Homeland Security.
The impact of this shutdown on the average federal worker was their financial security for the future: most people’s savings accounts were drained buying basic necessities while their jobs were gone. Some drove Ubers or picked up extra jobs, but their financial safety net was completely exhausted keeping themselves afloat in their unemployment. This is especially true for government contractors, who did not get repaid after the government reopened despite losing their jobs when it closed. These are the Americans who work sometimes directly for the Congress that shut down their government, proving one thing to be clear: no matter what this shutdown was about, it certainly wasn’t about the people.