Government Shutdown Deep Down


People, we’ve got a government shutdown. A shutdown is never good news, but it is often an indicator of deeper problems going on in government.

Why did the government shut down?

The government can only function if Congress passes a budget. In this case, the budget didn’t pass before a certain deadline. Therefore, per the constitution, the government can’t function and must shut down until an active budget gets passed.

The government’s fiscal year actually begins every October 1st, but the government rarely passes a budget by this date. Usually, they will pass what is called a “continuing resolution” – which allows the budget to use the same amounts from the previous fiscal year for a specific period of time until a new budget can be agreed on and put to a vote. This time, a continuing resolution didn’t pass, and so… no budget.

Why didn’t the continuing resolution or budget pass?

As mentioned in my last post about government budgets, they have to be agreeable, predictable, and if possible, balanced.

Well, at this point, Congress has not come up with an agreeable budget. That’s problem number one. To prevent government shutdowns, like this one, Congress over the last four months has agreed to pass continuing resolutions to buy more time to agree on a new budget. Listening to some of the senators’ comments, it seems like there is not an overall sense that progress is being made toward a new budget and they are tired of simply passing continuing resolutions.

But that’s not the only issue….

Before explaining the next part of this deep down government shutdown, let’s talk about how a bill or budget is usually passed.

The government only needs a majority in order to pass any bill, including the budget, once a bill is put to a vote. The Republicans hold the majority in the House and the Senate, so Republicans could potentially pass whatever they want. But, that’s if they can put it to a vote.

It’s time to define a word here: filibuster. A filibuster is a strategy used by a minority voice to delay bringing a bill to a vote. Before 1975 a person had to actually stand and talk for the filibuster to work. Sometimes a senator would simply read from Dr. Seuss or the dictionary. Anyway, since 1975 a filibuster can be employed by simply raising issues and the senator raising them no longer has to talk the whole time, but he or she has to remain on the senate floor during the filibuster.

The Senate created a way to bypass a filibuster if the bill can gain 60 votes or 60% support. This is called a cloture – a French word that means closure. It’s like saying, “End of discussion, it’s time to vote because we have enough votes to pass this thing.”

This budget question was put forward for a preliminary vote to see if it could move forward – but it didn’t get 60% support, with 49 senators using filibusters to stop the budget bill from being put to a full vote.

Senators and taxpayers alike agree that government shutdowns are bad, yet 49 of them are willing to put the country through the expense and trouble. I wrote on a slightly different topic a few weeks ago regarding how to negotiate when emotions are high. The emotions are high in Congress right now. If we take a look at the filibusters, we’ll see that there are deeper issues.

Let’s go back to my little grocery budget example.

Let’s pretend my husband and I have been struggling lately to work together. He disciplines the kids when I think he should be lenient. I discipline the kids when he thinks I should be lenient. But every time we try to talk about it, we just can’t seem to agree on the best approach.

It’s the end of the month and it’s time to talk about next month’s budget. Usually we keep the same budget, but this time we need to make some major changes.

I’m not ready to talk about the budget because the parenting issue is still bothering me. My husband is not ready to talk about the parenting issue and would rather we just keep our same budget for another month, giving us more time to figure things out.

We’re sitting at the kitchen table, but we aren’t making any progress. In an effort to get his attention, I push aside the budget and begin the conversation about parenting. My husband doesn’t want to talk about it. It’s getting late, so we decide to just leave things without achieving any resolution – on either issue.

That’s what’s happening in the Senate. Immigration laws, health care for children, and a number of other issues still need attention. Real negotiations are not happening. The budget, and the current government shutdown, is being used to force lawmakers into real negotiation mode.

And that’s the worst part. Congress is not working together and who really suffers? The military, government workers, you, me — This is not okay.


  1. I like the way you bring the political concept back to family situations so I can understand better what is happening in Congress. The scene of you and your husband is an excellent illustration to explain how Congress is not able to come to an agreement on the budget ! There are too many issues in Congress that are being pushed to the side, just like in your family example.

    Thank you, Emily, for making it easier to understand politics. It’s not as hard as I thought !


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