Budget Battle Shuts Down Government


O. Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT

For the first half of October, all national parks were inaccessible due to the country’s government shutdown.

Cole Sitar and Andrew Johnston

When President Barack Obama signed a temporary funding bill for the US government into law on the night of Oct. 16, he brought a 16-day government shutdown and the chaos it created to an end.

This government shutdown was the result of both a Republican drive to defund Obamacare, and of the Democratic response to their efforts. In February 2013, a core group of 80 Tea Party associated Republican Congressmen and 18 Senators pledged to refuse any budget proposal that would not completely defund Obamacare. Over the following months, this group pressured other Republican representatives into accepting their plan. Several Republicans who were opposed to refusing to fund Obamacare, including Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.), had negative advertising campaigns launched against them in their home districts by Tea Party linked political action groups.

Because the Republican Party holds a solid majority in the House of Representatives, it was able to write and pass two budgets which funded the federal government for 2014, but cut all funding to Obamacare. Each of these budgets was rejected by the Democrat controlled Senate and denounced by the White House. Finally, on Oct. 1, the 2014 fiscal year began with no federal budget, and the government shutdown began.

The government shutdown of 2013 was a dramatic example of political disunity, but it is far from unique. The last shutdown was in 1995-1996, under Bill Clinton. In fact, the 1995-1996 shutdown lasted for 21 days, and remains the longest government shutdown to date.

Although the Antideficiency Act of 1884 requires that government agencies keep a skeleton crew during a shutdown, and the Pay Our Military Act was passed in time to keep the armed forces running, most nonessential services and employees were frozen until funding was restored. Among the government services closed were national parks, IRS tax assistance programs, FDA food safety inspections, and CDC disease tracking.

Many Miramonte students experienced the effects of the shutdown firsthand after an earthquake in the early morning of Oct. 15. “I went on the USGS website to see where the earthquake was, and it wasn’t reported on the site. There was just an announcement that the USGS couldn’t keep their map updated very well because of the shutdown,” junior Alex Eberle said.

The crisis gained a new dimension on Oct. 2, when Obama announced that he would not pass any budget which would not raise the debt ceiling. If the debt ceiling is not raised before it is reached, the U.S. defaults on its debts to other countries. “If the US defaults, the economic damage would be really, really bad. It would be like nuclear damage for the economy,” Miramonte Government and Economics teacher Nader Jazayeri said.

The debate over the debt ceiling during the shutdown was only the continuation of a fierce political battle which began in January. This is the same fight which caused the sequester to be triggered in March. According to Jazayeri, the sequester’s huge, nonspecific cuts to government funding “really didn’t even buy the government more time to raise the debt ceiling again.”

During the shutdown, Republicans in the House passed nine bills to restore funding to certain government functions including Veterans Affairs and FEMA. Democrats in the Senate dismissed them as attempts to ease the pressure which shutting down the government had put on them. Each bill was rejected, and all government funding was cut until a final solution was reached.

After more than two weeks of unsuccessful negotiations in the House of Representatives, Republicans in the Senate decided to step in to end the shutdown. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put together a bill, which funds the government until January 2014 and suspends the debt ceiling until February 2014, and pressured House Republicans to take the deal. On Oct. 16, the bill passed the House with the support of every Democrat and 87 Republicans. It was approved by the House and signed into law by President Obama just hours later.

The shutdown was politically damaging for both parties, but more so for the Republicans.  After 16 days of chaos and bad publicity, all that the Republicans gained in the final budget plan were stricter income verification standards for Obamacare users. On Oct. 18, a CNN poll showed that 52 percent of Americans blamed Republicans for the shutdown, and that 38 percent blamed Democrats. Even House Majority Leader John Boehner admitted that “We fought the good fight, we just didn’t win.”

However, many Americans, including Jazayeri, believe that assigning winners and losers to the shutdown trivializes the damage that it caused. “When there is a government shutdown, everybody loses. The American people lose,” Jazayeri said. Financial analyst Standard & Poor’s seems to agree with him. It has calculated the shutdown’s cost to the economy to be $24 billion, and predicted that the shutdown will cut the country’s GDP by .6 percent this year.