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Editorial: Implications of increasing government shutdowns

Starting Jan. 20 at midnight EST, the U.S. government shut down for three days. Social issues aggravated conversations around the federal budget, and helped lead to the government’s failure to reach consensus on federal spending. The primary disagreement centers on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and its future, as well as where federal funds should be allocated for the coming year. A majority of Democrats in office are turning down budgets that don’t include protections for DACA recipients, a recurrent issue since President Donald Trump took office in 2017.

Kimberly Amadeo equated a government shutdown to “a complete breakdown in the budget process” in an article for The Balance. Shutdowns stem from a failure to compromise on budgeting plans. The two main political parties, Republicans and Democrats, are growing increasingly polarized on issues. The farther each side leans to the respective right or left, the harder they dig their heels in and refuse to give and take. The tension around money and how to spend it lends to the divide between parties. When compromise is denied, a shutdown is the result.

Most essential services and departments remain in function, though many employees are expected to work without guarantee of receiving compensation. Departments that cease operations during a shutdown include research facilities such as NASA and the National Institute of Health, and protection agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, among many other crucial institutions that make our country safe and productive. On a smaller level, even our campus is affected, as ROTC members experience holds on their federally managed scholarships and stipends.

The government shutdown in 2013 was much longer than this year’s — it totaled 16 days, and sparked protest and unrest among Americans. That shutdown was primarily caused by disagreements around the Affordable Care Act. An “Impacts and Costs of the Government Shutdown” statement in the Obama White House archives states that the 2013 shutdown had significant impact on the economy and cost $2 billion in lost productivity of furloughed employees. We may experience similar losses in the coming weeks.

A government shutdown grows more dangerous the longer it lasts. A few days is a manageable hiccup, compared to weeks with funding suspended. Americans who depend on social services will suffer, as will all federal employees who will no longer receive steady income with their jobs in limbo. If a shutdown exceeds two weeks, economic growth is negatively affected. Government spending is one essential part of the wheel that keeps our country running — accounting for 18 percent of economic output. Without that spending, the whole system suffers.

Shutdowns are a relatively new concept for our government — most of them only occurred after the 1980s. Fortunately, most of them were also short and inflicted only minimal harms. As our political scene operates today in a polarized, often aggressive tone, shutdowns have the potential to cause historical damage to the country. The past week has been rife with blame games, as politicians and public figures try to point fingers at who caused the shutdown.

We have funding through a temporary fix until Feb. 8 — a day that is quickly approaching. This short-lived shutdown is a reminder that progress on issues is increasingly harder to achieve. In a democratic system, disagreements are healthy and signal that a multiplicity of voices is being heard. However, slamming the brakes on federal funding for hundreds of organizations and thousands of citizens is a mistake we can’t afford to keep making.

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