In case you haven’t heard, the government shut down last week.
What exactly does this mean? Will you still get your mail, can you take that camping trip you’ve been waiting for all semester?
For the first time since 1996, the federal government is shut down. On Oct. 1, all nonessential government agencies were furloughed, and Congress’ approval rating sunk to around 5 percent.
While employees of the Department of Education, National Park system and Food and Drug Administration were furloughed, political science professor John Aughenbaugh said 75 percent of the government is still operating. He sat down with The CT to explain how the nation got to this point, what exactly the shutdown means for the country and how it will affect college students.
CT: Tell me about the events leading up to the shutdown. How did we get to where we are today?
JA: It has basically been about five years in the making. The United States Congress before Oct. 1 of every year is supposed to pass 12 to 13 spending bills.
The United States Congress has not passed a budget in five years. What they have been doing is passing what is known as a continuing resolution. It pretty much is an agreement between Congress and the President that the federal government will operate in the next fiscal year on the amount of money that was appropriated the previous year. No tough or serious decisions are made.
Most federal government agencies have been getting the same amount of money that they received in the 2008 fiscal year. The difficulty this year was that there were members of the Republican party, primarily in the House of Representatives, that wanted to tie the passage to the removal of the funding for the Affordable Care Act or delaying implementation for one year.
This is the president’s crowning achievement in domestic policy. Not surprisingly, he said he is not willing to negotiate that. That is where we are today – the continuing resolution has not been passed.
CT: What exactly is being shut down because of this?
JA: Only about one quarter of the federal workforce has been furloughed. Basically the distinction is essential versus nonessential functions. Essential includes the Postal Service, military and FBI. Things like parks and education have been deemed unimportant and their employees have been furloughed.
The FDA was also listed as nonessential, which means regulating food and making sure it is safe to eat is not currently happening.
CT: How could a student in particular be affected by the shutdown?
JA: Since the Department of Education is one of the groups labeled nonessential, any federal loan or aid application is not being processed right now. Also, if you are a student or faculty member who is working at a university purely based on grant money, then your work is over.
CT: When do you see this coming to an end?
JA: I don’t see this coming to an end for at least another week. Not necessarily because of the groups shut down, but because of the bigger budget issues. On Oct. 17, the debt ceiling expires, and if that happens, there will be serious repercussions globally.
Buying U.S. debt bonds has been a historically safe investment for outside groups to get involved in. Imagine if your credit card company shut down after you made a big purchase. It would ruin your reputation and ability to proceed with credit purchases. It is the same concept with the federal debt, we would lose the respect and trust of the whole world.