The government officially shut down on Dec 22, 2018, and soon became the longest government shutdown in US history.
In November 2018, President Trump repeatedly demanded five billion dollars in funding for a border wall between U.S. and Mexico, stating, “We have to build a wall, otherwise you can’t have border security.” Senate Democrats vehemently refused to approve his request, but after Mr. Trump declined to yield his position, the federal government shutdown went into effect on Dec 22. On Jan. 26, Mr. Trump signed a bill to reopen government for three weeks while Congress worked on a more permanent solution.
In the ensuing standoff both during the shutdown and now, neither side seems willing to compromise on the wall. Although Democrats have acquiesced to spend more on border security in 2019 than in previous years, offering up to $2.5 billion for increased border security and the installation of cameras, the wall remains the main point of contention for both sides. Democrats are willing to back funding for drones or refitted ports of entry, essentially tightening border security to the point of creating a “smarter” wall.
As of late January, Mr. Trump wants $5 billion for what he claimed would be a “big, beautiful wall” that he originally promised his voters that Mexico would pay for, and he insists that he will accept nothing less before permanently reopening government. In turn, Senate Democrats say they will never sign off $5 billion for a wall.
However, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, accused Democrats of prolonging the shutdown in order to appease their far-left base. He claimed that Democrats are purely motivated by partisanship. Firing back, Chuck Schumer, one of the top Senate Democrats, said the one and only person to blame for the shutdown is the President himself. He argued that Mr. Trump is demanding American taxpayers to allocate $5 billion of their hard-earned money towards an expensive and ineffective border wall. Schumer also reminded Americans that Mr. Trump had originally promised Mexico would pay for the wall.
Kate Landino ’20 reflected on the role of political partisanship in recent events and how intraparty disagreements and refusal to work together have caused the shutdown. She offered, “I think the shutdown is an indicator of how our government only works if people want it to work. This is not just a disagreement. It’s two stubborn parties that are refusing to compromise.”
The majority of Americans agree with Schumer. Public opinion polls conducted by the Washington Post in mid-January show that over 53% of Americans believe that Mr. Trump and the Republicans are at fault for the shutdown. Only 30% blame Senate Democrats.
This comes at a particularly complicated time for Mr. Trump, who is currently under an investigation that will determine if he acted as a covert “Russian agent” during the 2016 election. According to his advisors, Mr. Trump’s agitation over the Russia investigation is only inflaming his temperament as he negotiates with Democrats over the shutdown, and thus he is less willing to compromise on the issue.
After reopening the government for three weeks, Mr. Trump has gone so far as to warn that he would declare a national emergency in order to get his wall built. After nearly a week of publicly discussing the idea with reporters, Mr. Trump did not ultimately declare an emergency.
Meanwhile, 800,000 Americans were affected, some dramatically, after not receiving paychecks for over a month. Many workers have been asking themselves how they will pay next month’s rent, costly gas and electricity bills, and most importantly, how they could continue to buy food for their children.
Helen Mak ’20 attested to the gravity of the shutdown and indicated the importance of finding mutual agreement between political parties because of the harsh effects of a shutdown. She stated, “Everyone’s entitled to their own values, but people are missing their paychecks because of this political gridlock. I think it’s more important to find a compromise.”
With each day that passed, it became harder for the government to recover once it reopened, and could still become even harder if it closes again. The government will be repaying workers who have continued working despite receiving no pay, and bring back key government departments, such as the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Treasury.
Pointing to the suffering of American workers, Democrats repeatedly called for an end to the shutdown. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi asserted that the wall and the shutdown should have nothing to do with each other. Rather, she argued that they should be dealt with separately so that American families can return to work. Several Republicans who are up for reelection in 2020 have also urged Mitch McConnell to find a way to end the shutdown. It is ultimately Mr. Trump’s responsibility to reopen the government when he desires.
Although many members of the Deerfield community are not regularly discussing the shutdown and its effects, there are families of students on campus who were directly affected. Students whose parents are government workers or whose siblings are federally employed likely felt the consequences more acutely as the shutdown neared its one month mark.
Because of the shutdown’s impact, Samara Cummings ’20 mentioned how the government should adopt a more productive mindset. She stated, “This time could really be used to ponder more innovative solutions.”
Although the government shutdown has temporarily ended, given the uncertainty of the national budget status in the coming months, it will be important for politicians in the coming weeks to not let party interests trump heeding the needs of federal workers and the American people.