The United States government is teetering on the edge of yet another shutdown, with Congress set to miss the Saturday midnight deadline for funding federal agencies. If it occurs, this would be the fourth government shutdown in the past decade, potentially impacting a wide range of services and sectors, from air travel and national parks to marriage licenses.
Most government employees would face furloughs without pay, and crucial nutrition programs could be halted. This looming crisis stems from a hard-right revolt within the US House of Representatives.
In Congress, Republicans hold a slim majority in the House, while Democrats control the Senate by a single seat. Consequently, funding bills to keep the government operational require bipartisan support to advance through both chambers and reach President Joe Biden’s desk.
However, a faction of right-wing lawmakers has disrupted negotiations in the House by demanding significant spending cuts, including an end to US funding for the war in Ukraine. This group has received vocal support from former President Donald Trump and has thwarted Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s efforts to advance the necessary legislation in the House.
While Speaker McCarthy could theoretically turn to Democrats to secure the votes needed for a spending measure, such a move could trigger an attempt by the rebel faction to remove him from his leadership position. McCarthy has also refused to consider a short-term funding bill currently making its way through the Senate, which includes provisions for Ukraine and disaster aid. This bill represents a last-ditch effort to prevent a prolonged shutdown and appears to enjoy strong bipartisan support in the Senate.
On Friday, House Republicans’ short-term funding proposal, which included strict border policies championed by the hardliners, failed to pass, with as many as 21 members of the party voting against it. In a closed-door meeting, McCarthy warned that Republicans would need to choose between the House bill and the Senate’s version, or risk being blamed for a shutdown.
However, the rebel lawmakers remained resolute, insisting on a long-term spending bill that addresses their priorities. This standoff has prompted considerable debate and could result in a government shutdown with far-reaching consequences.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that a failure by House Republicans to act responsibly would negatively impact American families and could hinder economic progress. The shutdown would affect essential government functions, including loans to farmers and small businesses, food and workplace safety inspections, and major infrastructure projects.
Shutdowns occur when Congress cannot approve the roughly 30% of the federal budget required before the start of each fiscal year on October 1st. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of federal workers, except those deemed “essential,” will be without pay, affecting many employees living paycheck to paycheck. Additionally, over 40 million individuals with student loan debt will resume loan repayments on Sunday after a pandemic-related pause.
The shutdown would also immediately impact the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which assists seven million pregnant women and new mothers with grocery support. A prolonged shutdown could affect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as “food stamps,” and hinder the implementation of a new program providing free breakfast and lunch to students in high-need school districts.
Numerous institutions, including museums, national parks, research facilities, and community health centers with federal oversight or funding, may suspend operations during a shutdown. Furthermore, the government agency responsible for disaster relief and recovery is striving to conserve resources in case a shutdown coincides with an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season.
Such budget disputes, leading to government shutdowns, are unique to the United States and have been criticized as manifestations of Washington’s growing dysfunction and partisan divisions. The last government shutdown, under President Trump in 2019, lasted a record 34 days, resulting in significant economic losses and hardships for federal workers.