While the headlines may seem overly dramatic, shutdowns can actually be a major crisis for Americans and the U.S. economy.
But the U.S. is the only country in the world where this is a problem. Why is it a big deal? Here’s why:
One of Congress’ main jobs is deciding a budget and funding for the government, this includes providing money for each of the 12 major federal agencies. Sometimes, they get combined into one giant bill, called an omnibus, totaling more than $1.5 trillion dollars.
Since 1974, the deadline to pass all these budgets has been Oct. 1. But it wasn’t a big deal if Congress didn’t approve funding by that date because agencies could pay for things using money left over from the previous year’s budget.
That all changed in 1981.
A major part of a bill called the “Antideficiency Act” said government agencies cannot spend any money without an agreement, even to pay employees. It was seen as an incentive for Congress to pass a budget on time.
But since then, the U.S. has shut down 21 times; sometimes with major consequences.
The longest shutdown in history happened from 2018-2019 when the government shut down for 35 days. During that time, about 800,000 federal employees didn’t get a paycheck, but most of them still had to go into work.
Reports show the U.S. economy lost $11 billion.
This year, Congress put off a shutdown by a couple weeks by passing what are known as “continuing resolutions.” The short-term funding bills are how they essentially keep the lights on to give lawmakers more time.
Congress finally came to an agreement on a full omnibus package days before the money ran out, but there are still major problems with cutting it this close every year. Time and taxpayer money are wasted by agencies preparing for a shutdown.
“I’m quite confident that we’re talking about billions to 10s of billions,” said Max Stier, president of Partnership for Public Service. “It’s become the cost of doing business. And it’s a very, very large cost. And it is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the disruptions that are involved in the failure to see Congress do what it’s supposed to do.”
It’s Washington’s version of Groundhog Day and unless something changes, the next potential shutdown is just a year away.