Breaking down the longest government shutdown in U.S. history

On Saturday, Jan. 12, the current partial government shutdown officially became the longest in U.S. history, exceeding the previous record of 22-days. Thousands of government workers are not receiving any form of income and several federal agencies are closed, leading people to question how it got to this point and why it’s taking so long to change.

A major aspect of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, was the construction of a 2,000 mile-long concrete wall, separating the United States from Mexico. This wall would supposedly protect America from illegal immigrants entering the country. According to Trump, these immigrants bring about drugs, crime and rape.

However, the momentum of the construction was slowed throughout 2017-18 when the president of Mexico, Andres Obrador, continually declined to fund the project.

On Dec. 11, during a meeting with Democratic congressional leaders, Trump threatened a year-long government shutdown if Congress denied to fund his wall.  In a televised meeting with congressional leaders, he said, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security. I will take the mantle.”

One week later, both the House and Senate agreed to pass a revised budget allowing $1.5 billion to be allocated towards border security. However, with no funding specifically for the wall, Trump refused to sign any budget proposal, unless it included the $5.7 billion needed to build the wall.

Elizabeth Flores, an Azusa Pacific junior communications major, criticized Trump’s stubbornness to compromise, noting that “democrats have been willing to negotiate money for border security in the way of technology and surveillance.”

In response, a stopgap funding bill was issued by the House adding $5 billion for Trump’s wall, but the Senate rejected the bill after not reaching a consensus on whether to add the additional funds or not.

At midnight on Dec. 21, a partial shutdown took effect, leaving some 800,000 government employees without a paycheck and about a quarter of federal agencies out of commission.

Journalism professor William Willis notes the strangeness of this particular shutdown, which makes it unique from previous ones.

“The reason is that the 800,000 or so federal workers who need their paychecks are being used as pawns, is because the president and members of the House of Representatives can’t reach an agreement on the wall that Trump wants,” said Willis.

Despite the already overwhelming amount of negative effects the shutdown has caused, including the National Park Service and the Food and Drug Administration being temporarily closed, neither the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives nor the Republican-controlled Senate can come to a resolution.

The dilemma here appears to stem from an issue much deeper than monetary concern. For the  2019 fiscal year, the federal budget will be $4.407 trillion, creating a $985 billion deficit for Oct. 1, 2018 through Sept. 30, 2019.

“Obviously $5.7 billion is a lot of money, but when you look at it in perspective of the entire federal budget, you’re talking about one tenth of one percent basically,” said political science professor Douglas Hume. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a huge part of our budget. So, for the parties to not be able to find some sort of compromise on the issue is really unfortunate.”

Hume suggested the debacle is a matter of Democrats prohibiting President Trump to accomplish this part of his agenda. Willis speculated further.

“Many observers, and I’m one of them, wonder if the president’s stance is actually based on the need for a wall, which many immigration experts don’t believe will help solve the influx of immigrants, or illegal drugs for that matter,” Willis said. “The question in the minds of many is whether the president is just trying to save face with his voting base.”

Trump’s election was heavily based upon his promise to build the wall, coining the popular 2016 motto: “Build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.” It is possible that Trump’s fear of failure is responsible for the aggressive push for the wall’s construction, not the fear of illegal immigration.

“In the past,” Hume said. “Trump has handled immigration issues very sloppily and irresponsibly, through the language he used throughout his campaign and after he was elected. That offended a lot of people. So even though I believe a legitimate goal is trying to be accomplished, I think he has made the job really difficult on himself.”

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, and Trump have reached an impasse. Neither of them is willing to compromise on the issue at hand.

“[This parallels the] larger impasse in Washington between Republicans and Democrats,” Willis said.