Breaking Down the Government Shutdown

By, Annie A. ’21

At the most basic level, the US Federal Government shuts down when no spending bill is passed into law by Congress and the President. Spending bills, which are typically passed yearly for some agencies and less often for others, let the U.S. Treasury pay workers and agencies (like the TSA, the FDA, and the FBI). Although usually frowned upon, government shutdowns sometimes occur when a party or president “holds hostage” funding for certain projects and agencies in order to get money or a law passed for specific purposes.

In the case of the December 22, 2018-January 25, 2019 shutdown, hundreds of thousands of federal workers were not paid, even though some were required to continue working during the 35-day period.

Among countless stories of federal employees facing financial hardships due to the lack of government funding, some, like that of a woman who rationed her insulin rather than face debt by purchasing more (CNN) and those of a group of federal workers who had to turn to food banks simply to eat during the shutdown (Chicago Tribune) are especially appalling.

Despite a bipartisan agreement to extend funding for federal agencies and an agreement to debate the demanded $5.7 billion for border security, President Donald Trump refused to sign the spending bill. Just 10 days ago, Trump agreed to a plan approved by both chambers of the House to reopen the government for just three weeks. This temporary reopening will allow federal workers to be paid, but the threat of another shutdown still looms, as Democratic and Republican legislators and the President have only seven more days to come to an agreement on the financing for Trump’s much-campaigned-upon wall. The President has also threatened to declare a state of emergency in order to bypass congressional approval in order to fund the construction of his wall (USA Today).

Below details a basic timeline of the government shutdown and deadlines yet to come in these ongoing developments:


December 11, 2018: President Donald Trump told Democratic leaders (Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer) that he would be “proud” to shutdown the federal government if $5.7 billion is not allocated to building the border wall.


December 19, 2018: The Senate passed a short-term bill to keep government open by funding nine federal departments through February 8.


December 22, 2018: Donald Trump did not approve the Senate’s bill since it did not include funds for border security. As such, the government began to shut down partially.


January 3, 2019: Newly elected members of Congress were sworn in, giving Democrats control of the House of Representatives. The House passed two bills almost immediately that would reopen the government and postpone debate over border wall funding until February.


January 8, 2019: Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office (for more information, see Haley K. ’20’s article on this address and the Democratic rebuttal).


January 19, 2019: Trump offered to extend DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in exchange for complete border wall funding.


January 25, 2019: President Trump signed a bill to reopen the government completely and pay federal workers for three weeks in order to allow negotiations on funding for the wall.


February 15, 2019: The date by which both parties in both chambers of Congress and President Trump must agree to sign a bill extending funding before the government shuts down again.