Early Tuesday morning, the United States awoke to a government shutdown after the two houses of congress failed to agree on a new budget. It is the first shutdown in 17 years; the last one under president Clinton in 1995-1996. The shutdown is expected to affect more than 700, 000 workers, who will face unpaid leave for an indeterminate amount of time with no guarantee of payback for lost time.
If it seems odd that a government would willingly provoke a crisis suspending public services and decreasing economic growth, it’s because it is. It is one of the fun quirks of the United States political system, which allows different branches of government to be run by different parties. The negotiating tactic was devised by the nation’s founders, with the goal of encouraging cooperation and deliberation between the houses. However, in recent years, it has seemed to have the opposite effect.
This shutdown illustrates a divide in US politics so bitter that the government literally cannot function. Continual disagreement between the two houses over government spending has resulted in Republicans to using budget deadlines to gain political leverage over contentious policies.
The core issue over the budget debate was President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act, or “Obamacare.” The House of Representatives demanded a delaying of the healthcare reform as a condition for passing the bill. The Democrats refused to make further concessions, and so the Republicans threw a temper tantrum. The Republicans knew their demands would not be met, but would rather instate a government shut down rather than be accused of weakness, or betrayal to their values and party donors.
Regardless, the Affordable Care Act took effect Tuesday morning amid the shutdown.
While the United States still functions the shutdown has affected key government departments and agencies. Among those closed are national parks, museums, and federal buildings and services. Results of the closed services include visas and passports remaining unprocessed, pension and veteran benefit cheques being stalled, and benefit programs for the poor being halted. One such benefit program is the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, affecting 9 million mothers and children below the poverty line.
The people most impacted by the shutdown are those who are still struggling to recover from the recession. While on a national scale the shutdown is expected to cause a 0.9% drop of GDP for this quarter over the course of three weeks, the impact on the poor will be much greater, and will receive less attention.
The shutdown is expected to also have an international impact. In an age of globalization, the shutdown is bound to effect the nations economies most closely linked with the United States, notably Canada.
Any negative effects on the global market caused by the shutdown are nothing compared to what will happen should the houses fail to reach an agreement by their October 17th deadline for extending the borrowing limit. Should they fail, the US will default on its debt, plunging the global economy into chaos.
Now, the only hope for American citizens, is that the parties will end this game of political chicken, responsibly perform their jobs, and behave in the interest of their people, regardless of party membership.