Facts behind government shutdown explained

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on "Planned Parenthood's Taxpayer Funding." (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on “Planned Parenthood’s Taxpayer Funding.” (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Congress passed a temporary bill advancing government funding to $1.2 billion until Dec. 11. By doing this, Congress averted what would have been America’s 19th government shutdown since 1976, according to CNN. Government shutdowns are extremely common and can occur for several reasons, whether it is a politically motivated strategy from one party or a general failure to reach a consensus on debated issues.

What is a government shutdown? 

A government shutdown is the name of a process that the executive branch enters into when Congress is unable to enact legislation to fund government agencies and projects, before the fiscal year ends.  Brad Plumer from the Washington Post said there are many sectors of the federal government that need to be funded each year in order to operate. If Congress can’t agree, they have to close down.

The politics behind a shutdown 

Democrats and Republicans use the statutory limit on the debt (how much the federal government can borrow legally) and try to force each other to negotiate on issues before the clock runs out. Wayne Steger, a professor in the political science department at DePaul, explained the politics of a shutdown.

“Democrats, when they are in the minority, have used the debt ceiling to call attention to Republican spending on defense and the deficits that result from tax cuts,” Steger said. “Republicans — when they have been in the minority — have used the debt ceiling to force Democrats to accept spending cuts.”

What is the real issue here? 

Discontinuing taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood has created tension. Planned Parenthood is a non-profit organization that provides reproductive, maternal and children’s health service as well as abortions. In addition, several videos were recently released including conversations about fetal tissue harvesting. Planned Parenthood has repeatedly denied that these videos are legitimate, and continue to defend their position on women’s healthcare. Some Republicans on the other hand, refuse to approve a budget plan that includes funding for the organization.

What is the after effect? 

The impact of a government shutdown can vary by agency and population. In 2013, 800,000 federal employees were sent home without pay. Thankfully, students will not feel the effects of a government shutdown, as student loans are funded through pre-paid contracts.

“I don’t expect that to happen this year.  Republicans are going to oppose raising the debt ceiling to pressure Obama and Senate Democrats to cut spending on a variety of social welfare programs, including health care through Planned Parenthood.  The problem is that it is a politically losing strategy,” Steger said. “If Democrats don’t cave, the government gets shut down and Republicans get most of the blame.  If a shutdown lasts more than a couple of weeks, the consequences will be bad for Republicans in the election next year.  Realizing that, I anticipate that Republicans in the House will back down in a couple of weeks. ”