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The Looming U.S. Government Shutdown: What You Need to Know Before the Jan. 19 Deadline

Natasha Bach

The phrase “government shutdown” seemingly crops up every few months, and now it’s rearing its ugly head once again.

Congress is facing a Friday Jan. 19 deadline to pass a spending bill, which helps determine the government’s budget and discretionary spending for the fiscal year. Without it, the government will shut down.

How did we get here this time?

The trigger

While much of the conversation has focused on immigration and specifically on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the risk of government shutdown stems from the government’s inability to agree on how to fund the government.

Many budget issues that should have been agreed upon before the end of last year were pushed into 2018 via a series of continuing resolutions, which used stopgap measures to delay the deadline. These resolutions are what have left us with the current Jan. 19 deadline to come to an agreement on this year’s government budget.

Unfortunately for those hoping for a speedy consensus, the continuing resolutions also temporarily extended a number of programs that have divided the two parties. This includes funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and for disaster relief. And now several Senate Democrats have threatened not to vote on either short- or long-term spending bills that don’t include a measure that addresses the thousands of undocumented immigrants that are currently protected by DACA.

Another stopgap solution

In an attempt to avoid shutdown, House Republicans put forward another stopgap bill on Tuesday that would fund the government through Feb. 16.

This bill extends the current level of funding for most federal programs. Significantly, however, it does not include protections for DACA, but does extend funding for CHIP for six years. This puts Democrats in a precarious situation: either they can vote in favor of the bill and jeopardize the safety of the young immigrants living in the U.S. known as Dreamers, or vote against the bill and potentially trigger a government shutdown.

Even with this continuing resolution, Congress would likely find itself in a similar position come its expiration in February. Should the two parties not iron out their disagreements on government funding and immigration, a shutdown showdown would be upon us once more.

What happens in a government shutdown?

Without an agreement on a continuing resolution by Friday, the government will not be authorized to spend any money, prompting a government shutdown.

Many federal agencies would therefore be forced to close and government workers would be unable to work. Workers deemed “essential,” such as those who work in security and law enforcement, would not be included and would be allowed to continue working. But those who work at national parks, monuments, or museums, as well as those who process visas and passports and maintain government websites would be among those affected.

During the last government shutdown in October 2013, 850,000 federal workers were furloughed, equal to nearly 40% of the government workforce. The shutdown lasted for 16 days, triggered by a disagreement over Obamacare. According to Standard & Poor, it cost the economy $24 billion.