A light retrospective on the 2018-2019 government shutdown.

openOriginally written: March 28th, 2019 for a school newspaper.

On December 22, 2018, the United States began what would soon become the longest government shutdown in history. It lasted thirty-five days and occurred when Donald Trump and Congress couldn’t reach an agreement on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Around 800,000 employees had to shut down partially or in full. More than 420,000 of those were government workers who were expected to work without pay. CSNBC reported that the government shutdown cost the economy $11 billion, including a permanent $3 billion loss.

Glancing at a few articles posted early on into the shutdown many expected the government shutdown to end somewhat quickly. Vox even went as far as to call it “a game of chicken” where “in the end, someone has to give in.” With this in mind, one might be met with a plethora of polarizing questions. Here’s everything as it occurred, and a few other key things to consider.

Main concerns over the shutdown arose after it began to overstay its proverbial welcome. It had carried itself into the new year and at this point, hundreds of thousands of federal employees were working unpaid for nine straight days. By January 4th, 2019 the New York Times was reporting that Trump claimed the shutdown could last months or even years. While this is impossible, due to the fact that the fiscal year ends on September 30th, 2019, this possibility was still incredibly alarming to the general public who are mostly politically unaware.

On January 8th, 2019 Trump delivered his first primetime address from the Oval Office. During this address, Trump slightly mentions the devastating effects of the shutdown but his focus remains on the Democrats, who don’t support the border wall. Trump claims in his speech that, “This situation could be solved in a 45-minute meeting. I have invited Congressional leadership to the White House tomorrow to get this done. Hopefully, we can rise above partisan politics in order to support national security.” In the very same article that chronicles this speech, TIME magazine reports that the shutdown has “no clear end in sight.” At this point, some federal workers and contractors affected by the shutdown have turned to crowdfund sites, like GoFundMe, to raise funds for rent and bills. Many government facilities have also ceased action.

On January 10th, Donald Trump threatens to declare a national emergency to circumvent Congress if he can’t reach a deal with Democrats to fund his promised border wall. The following day many federal workers miss their first paycheck. Some workers who are used to earning six-figure salaries now expect an average weekly take-home pay of roughly $500. Then the following day, the shutdown breaks the record for the longest government shutdown in history. The previous occurred in December 1995 at only 21 days.

In the days following, it’s astonishingly clear no negotiations will be made without addressing Trump’s proposal for the wall, a wall that is now estimated to cost around $8.6 billion to create. The government shutdown would later end on January 25th due to Trump’s support for a three-week funding measure that would reopen the government until February 15th. By this point, Federal district courts had officially run out of funds and Federal workers missed yet another paycheck.

However, the aftermath of the whole fiasco was equally as alarming. A bipartisan group reached an agreement which included a $1.375 billion deal for 55 miles of steel border fencing and another $1.7 billion for other security measures. On February 15th, at the White House Rose Garden, President Trump announced that he had signed the spending bill to keep the government open. This was after Trump had already blocked the back pay of federal contractors who were still penniless from the shutdown. During this time Trump also declared a national emergency over the border crisis, hoping to get access to $8 billion to use for the wall.

This was the de facto end of the government shutdown but in its wake, the issue of the state of emergency would take its place. It’s easy to point fingers and blame a single figure for the government shutdown but the fact of the matter is that this was a team effort. It should be noted all federal employees affected were paid back after the debacle was over. Several other provisions were made to keep things running regardless of the government’s status. It’s important to remember that while this moment in history was dire, society was able to come out from it in one piece and is ultimately stronger for it. The government shutdown is a strong representation of American society banding together against all odds.

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