Congress fails to pass budget, forces government shutdown

By: Andrew Koch

The federal government shut down after Congress failed to approve a budget before the new fiscal year began. As a result, institutions controlled by the federal government put hundreds of thousands of employees on indefinite, unpaid leave and closed government buildings across the country.

Because the Constitution requires the federal budget to receive a majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in order to take effect, the federal government entered a shutdown when the new fiscal year began without a Congressionally-approved budget on Oct. 1.

More than 800,000 employees the government deemed “non-essential” were furloughed, sent home without pay, as a result of the shutdown.

In addition, numerous national parks, zoos, monuments and museums across the country are closed indefinitely.

Some federal organizations continue to function in a limited capacity. For example, the National Institute of Health can continue providing care for its patients but cannot begin new research studies or treat any new patients.

Similarly, disability and welfare checks will still be sent to qualifying citizens, though new disability and welfare applications will be delayed until the government begins functioning again.

Certain parts of institutions deemed “essential” to the functioning and security of the nation, including law enforcement agencies, remain open.

Except for its civilian employees, the military will also continue to function and members of the Armed Services will continue to receive pay.

President Barack Obama and the 535 voting members of Congress will be paid throughout the shutdown.

In addition to the federal employees put on unpaid leave, private institutions who rely on the federal government for business will also suffer from the shutdown.

The White House estimates that the shutdown will cost the United States economy $10 billion in lost revenue for each week it continues.

Congress was unable to agree on a budget after weeks of partisan debate. The Republican-majority House of Representatives included in their version of the budget a provision that would defund the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s plan for universal health care. The Democrat-majority Senate voted down the bill and refused to approve any further revisions that denied funding for the act.

The Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare,” is Obama’s plan for universal health care and has been met with controversy since it was passed by a majority-Democrat Congress in 2010.

Despite having been used by Republicans as leverage in budget proposals, the Affordable Care Act went into effect as scheduled on Oct. 1.

The shutdown will end when the Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate agree on a budget plan and Obama signs it into law.

While budget negotiations continue and despite the costly shutdown (and an estimated 10 percent approval rating), leaders of Congress from both parties have expressed limited interest in compromise.

“The House has voted to keep the government open, but we also want basic fairness for all Americans under Obamacare,” Speaker of the House and Xavier alumnus John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a press conference.

Similarly, Democrats in the Senate are reluctant to approve anything but a “clean” budget that is free from language that defunds the Affordable Care Act.

“We will not go to conference with a gun to our heads,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said.

The federal government has shut down 17 times since 1976. The most recent shutdown lasted for 21 days and occurred in 1995, during the Clinton administration.