What are government shutdowns? How do they happen, and what problems do they cause?
Government shutdowns, in the American context, are a consequence of Congress being unable or unwilling to pass legislation that can fund the functions of government.
This can happen because of disputes within Congress, between Congress and the executive, or both.
Shutdowns harm the country in four ways. First, they can cause funding to run out for government services which people rely on, such as SNAP and other social programs, as well as tax refunds.
Second, as a consequence of the lack of funding, federal workers receive no pay, and are either furloughed or have to work without pay until the shutdown is over.
Third, they do significant damage to the economy. Standard and Poor’s, reports that the 2013 shutdown took over 900 billion dollars out of the economy. We don’t know yet how much damage this one will do, but it will likely be significant, especially given that this shutdown is poised to break a record for the longest in American history.
Fourth, government shutdowns tend to further incline Americans towards an extremely pessimistic and disdainful view of politicians and politics more generally. This is especially understandable given that Congressional salaries, unlike those of, say, servicemen in the coast guard, are not withheld during a shutdown.
This is extremely dangerous, especially in a time when more Americans are toying with the idea that their institutions are irredeemable, and perhaps need to be dismantled altogether.
Shutdowns hurt people, damage the economy lead to the denial of critical services, and worsen an already severe crisis in the trust of government.