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World Is the U.S. government shutdown still on? A guide to the standoff between Trump and Congress

Tijuana, Mexico, Jan. 8: A section of the US-Mexico border fence is seen from Baja California state. U.S. President Donald Trump's demands for congressional funding for a border wall have led to a weeks-long partial government shutdown.

GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP/Getty Images



The latest

  • The U.S. government shutdown has entered its fourth week with no sign of a breakthrough between Congress and President Donald Trump, making it the longest shutdown in American history.
  • In the GOP-controlled Senate, Republican Lindsay Graham is urging the President to reopen the government for a few weeks, continue negotiations with the Democrats and then, if no deal is reached, take the step of declaring an emergency. Mr. Trump rejected that plan Monday: "I want to get it solved. I don’t want to just delay it.”
  • On Friday, Mr. Trump backed away from declaring a national emergency “right now” to sidestep Congress and build a US$5.7-billion wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. House Democrats are opposed to a border wall and the anti-immigrant rhetoric Mr. Trump has used to support it. (Here’s a fact check from The Globe and Mail’s Tamsin McMahon about Mr. Trump’s many dubious claims about the wall and the situation at the border.) 
  • The Globe and Mail spoke with just a few of the 800,000 federal workers affected by the shutdown, either by being forced to stay home or work without pay. Mahasin Mohamed, a 56-year-old security guard at Washington’s National Air and Space Museum, has been trying to get leniency from her bank on mortgage payments and worries about how she will pay her bills.


What’s closed and what’s open

Jan. 7, 2019: A sign is seen on a fence in New York at the General Grant National Memorial as the partial U.S. government shutdown continues.

MIKE SEGAR/Reuters

Since Dec. 22, a host of U.S. government agencies have closed because the federal government didn’t pass appropriations bills to give them the money they need to operate. Unlike some previous shutdowns, it doesn’t affect every department; most agencies have had their funding approved through to Sept. 30, the end of the government’s fiscal year. This shutdown affects only a quarter of federal agencies' employees in roles that have been deemed non-essential, which still covers a lot of services.

What’s closed

  • Tax investigations: The Internal Revenue Service is one of the affected agencies, and has sent most of its work force home. If you’re being audited, that’s likely on hold. Ordinarily a shutdown would also suspend payouts of tax refunds, but the White House budget office said on Jan. 7 that workers would be recalled from furlough to get those refunds delivered. But if the shutdown drags on into mid-January, when tax-filing season typically starts, things could get messy.
  • National parks: The National Park Service, under the umbrella of the Interior department, is running some parks on skeleton crews, devolving others to state agencies and closing many more. 
  • Housing and Urban Development: Only a handful of essential staff remain in the department overseeing public housing, though it continues to make voucher payments for low-income families.
  • Commerce Department: If you need U.S. economic or census data, you’re out of luck. Some of the department’s more essential services, like weather-forecasting and processing of patent applications, are still running.
  • Personnel Management: The government’s human-resources branch is shut down.
  • Federal Communications Commission: This is the agency that regulates radio and TV broadcasting.

What’s not closed

  • Law enforcement: Most of the 245,000 employees of the Homeland Security department are deemed essential, so they are still working but without pay. Agencies within that department include Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Coast Guard and the Secret Service. FBI investigations are continuing, as is special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
  • Transportation: Most staff at the Federal Aviation Administration, the aviation safety watchdog, are still on the job, as is the Federal Highway Administration, which gets its funding from other sources.
  • Mail delivery: The U.S. Postal Service generates its own revenue, so it isn’t affected by government shutdowns.

Which states are most affected

Federal civilian Employment by State

Fiscal year 2017. Reflects location of job.

Excludes U.S. Postal Service

3,039

19,537

62,366

152,466 

Ohio: 49,450

Oregon: 17,252

Illinois: 44,760

Virginia:

144,295

Texas:

132,952

Calif.: 152,466

D.C.:

141,367

Florida:

89,504

Md:

120,705

Alaska: 10,398

Hawaii: 23,453

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: United StateS Office Of PerSOnnel

ManageMent

Federal civilian Employment by State

Fiscal year 2017. Reflects location of job. Excludes U.S.

Postal Service

Ohio: 49,450

Oregon: 17,252

Illinois: 44,760

Virginia:

144,295

Texas:

132,952

D.C.:

141,367

Calif.: 152,466

Md:

120,705

Florida:

89,504

3,039

19,537

62,366

152,466 

Alaska: 10,398

Hawaii: 23,453

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: United StateS Office Of PerSOnnel ManageMent

Federal civilian Employment by State

Fiscal year 2017. Reflects location of job. Excludes U.S. Postal Service

Ohio: 49,450

N.Y.:

60,727

Oregon: 17,252

Illinois: 44,760

Virginia:

144,295

D.C.:

141,367

Texas:

132,952

Md:

120,705

Calif.: 152,466

Florida: 89,504

3,039

19,537

62,366

152,466 

Alaska: 10,398

Hawaii: 23,453

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: U.S. Office Of PerSOnnel ManageMent

Why can Americans just shut down their government?

Dec. 20, 2018: The statue of George Washington is seen beneath the Rotunda in the Capitol two days before the government shutdown began.

The Associated Press

To Canadians, shutdowns might seem like a bug in the U.S. political system: Why would you just let public services run out of money? But its place in American politics isn’t accidental; it took generations to create the mechanisms that make shutdowns possible.

Congress has had “power of the purse” since the founding of the United States in the 18th century. But by the 19th, government agencies and the military would sometimes abuse that power by deliberately running out of money and signing contracts they couldn’t afford, believing Congress would rather reimburse them than let services stop. Historians would later call this strategy “coercive deficiency.” After the Civil War, faced with soaring military spending and government debt, Congress tried to stop the practice with the Antideficiency Act, which barred the government from entering into contracts that weren’t fully funded first.

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Washington tweaked and strengthened the act over the decades, but for most of its history, agencies weren’t required to close if Congress missed a deadline for passing appropriations bills. Sometimes the agencies would shut down, but at other times they would keep working on credit. That changed under Republican president Ronald Reagan, whose attorney-general took a hard-line interpretation of the law and insisted that agencies without funding should stop nonessential work. The Reagan administration saw eight shutdowns of four days or fewer.

Since then, Americans have seen some lengthy shutdowns affecting hundreds of thousands of government workers. The most recent shutdown before this one was in 2013, when Democratic president Barack Obama was at odds with a Republican-controlled House over his signature health-care policy. And the longest was in 1995-96, in a 21-day standoff between Bill Clinton and a GOP-led Congress over how to measure the government’s budget balance.

Why doesn’t Canada have government shutdowns?

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

There are many, many differences between the U.S. political system and Westminster-style parliaments like Canada’s, but here are a few that address why an American-style shutdown wouldn’t happen here:

  • If a Canadian budget doesn’t pass, the government falls. Budgets and other sorts of confidence motions (potentially including some of the supply bills that actually authorize government spending) trigger a new election if they fail in the House of Commons, and whoever wins can then pass a new budget. This would only happen in minority Parliaments, which are generally rare because of how Canada’s electoral system works.
  • There is no elected counterpart to the House that could reject a budget outright. Budgets do require approval by senators and royal assent from the governor-general, but neither of those offices are elected. So while it is possible for a Senate to be at odds with the House of Commons over spending matters, the senators have no mandate from voters to reject budgets completely or do wholesale rewrites. They would, at best, make amendments and send the bill back to MPs. And whereas in the U.S. system, the president (who is both head of state and head of government) can veto legislation, the governor-general (the representative of Canada’s head of state, the Queen) is prevented by centuries of tradition from refusing royal assent to a bill. If they did, it would be an unprecedented constitutional crisis.
  • The Governor-General can authorize money without Parliament. In special circumstances, such as an election period, the governor-general can issue a special warrant to the president of the Treasury Board to make sure essential government services get their money. 

The origins of this shutdown

Jan. 6, 2019: A man looks through the U.S.-Mexico border wall in Tijuana, Mexico. President Donald Trump's demand for more money to build a border wall have allowed the government shutdown to drag on.

Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

The current shutdown started because of President Donald Trump’s demand to build a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border, one of his first campaign pledges in the 2016 election. Mr. Trump once boasted that Mexico would pay for the wall, but now he wants US$5-billion from Congress to finance it, and the Democrats are vocally opposed.

Mr. Trump triggered the shutdown in December when he rejected a spending package from Congress (both houses of which were then still controlled by his own party) to fund the government until February. Mr. Trump insisted that any spending bill contain the US$5-billion for the wall.

About two weeks later, the new Democrat-controlled House was sworn in, and one of its first acts was to pass two bills that would reopen most of the government and buy a little more time for Homeland Security funding. Mr. Trump rejected the compromise, and the House Democrats turned to other options, such as legislation to reopen the closed departments one by one.

land ownership along southern border

CALIF.

ARIZ.

N.M.

UNITED STATES

Tucson

Tijuana

El Paso

TEXAS

Big Bend

Nat’l Park

Nogales

Laredo

MAP KEY

MEXICO

Existing fence

Federal lands

Brownsville

Tribal lands

john sopinski/the globe and mail, source: cato

institute; government accounting office;

graphic news

land ownership along southern border

CALIF.

ARIZ.

N.M.

UNITED STATES

Tucson

Tijuana

El Paso

TEXAS

Big Bend

Nat’l Park

Nogales

Pacific

Ocean

Laredo

MAP KEY

MEXICO

Existing fence

Federal lands

Brownsville

Tribal lands

john sopinski/the globe and mail, source: cato

institute; government accounting office; graphic news

land ownership along southern border

CALIF.

ARIZ.

N.M.

San

Diego

UNITED STATES

Tucson

Tijuana

El Paso

TEXAS

Nogales

Big Bend

Nat’l Park

Pacific

Ocean

Laredo

MAP KEY

MEXICO

Existing fence

Federal lands

Brownsville

Tribal lands

john sopinski/the globe and mail, source: cato institute; government

accounting office; graphic news

barrier status along the

u.s. southern border

In kilometres

Total length

of border

3,126

Barrier already

in place

before Trump

1,052

US$292-million re-

placement barrier

approved by Congress

in Calif., N.M., Texas

199

Replacement barrier

already started

or completed

64

Replacement barrier

to be completed

by May 2019

22.4

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: associated press;

new york times

barrier status along the

u.s. southern border

In kilometres

Total length

of border

3,126

Barrier already

in place

before Trump

1,052

US$292-million re-

placement barrier

approved by Congress

in Calif., N.M., Texas

199

Replacement barrier

already started

or completed

64

Replacement barrier

to be completed

by May 2019

22.4

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: associated press;

new york times

barrier status along the u.s. southern border

In kilometres

Total length

of border

3,126 km

Barrier already

in place

before Trump

1,052

US$292-million re-

placement barrier

approved by Congress

in Calif., N.M., Texas

199

Replacement barrier

already started

or completed

64

Replacement barrier

to be completed

by May 2019

22.4

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: associated press; new york times

How could this end? Some scenarios

Jan. 8: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pose for photographers after speaking on Capitol Hill in response to a televised address by Mr. Trump about the border situation.

Alex Brandon/The Associated Press

A bill-by-bill battle: Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, has said legislators will begin looking at individual appropriations bills that would reopen the closed departments. Those bills are unlikely to pass in the Senate.

The Graham compromise: Republican Senator Lindsay Graham has urged the President to consider reopening the government for a few weeks so he can have more time to reach a deal with Democrats – and if none is reached, he can declare a state of national emergency (more on that scenario below). Mr. Trump has publicly rejected Mr. Graham’s plan because it offers no direct solution to the wall issue.

The Senate caves: The shutdown has led a handful of Senate Republicans to challenge their party, but not enough to tip the balance in the Senate, where the GOP holds 52 of 100 seats. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he won’t let a spending bill pass unless Mr. Trump is happy with it.

Redefining ‘wall’: Mr. Trump has publicly suggested that the Democrats could be persuaded to relent if, instead of a concrete barrier, they agreed to build a steel barrier. In his Jan. 8 public address, for instance, he de-emphasized the word “wall” and suggested a steel barrier would be a concession to Democrats. But the underlying issue for many Democrats is not material but moral; steel or concrete, the barrier would be designed to keep asylum seekers and migrants out.

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State of emergency: Mr. Trump has also threatened to declare a national emergency to get the wall built without Congress’s approval. Presidents have some unilateral powers under the National Emergencies Act, but they still need to notify Congress and give specific and credible reasons for taking extreme action. In this case, Mr. Trump would need to demonstrate that migrant border crossings (which are less frequent now than they were in the 2000s) constitute an “emergency,” and he would be challenged in Congress or in court on that point.

Compiled by Globe staff

With reports from Reuters, Associated Press and Adrian Morrow

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