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Wang Peng: What’s behind U.S. government shutdown?


By Wang Peng    Source: CGTN    Published: 2018-12-24

The partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government is set to stretch past Christmas, as the Senate adjourned on Saturday for a holiday, with no deal in sight to end the impasse over funding Trump's U.S.-Mexico border wall. Most critical national security functions remain operational, but some 800,000 federal employees are impacted.

While some employees were made to go on leaves, others are working without pay as Christmas approaches. Now, various sides of American political spectrum and international media are anticipating the impasse will continue into the initial weeks of January.

The cause: Why shutdown?

One word that answers this question: Money! And to be more precise, the failure of the U.S. Congress to appropriate funds. In accordance with the U.S. law, Congress allocates funds for the following year on every September 30, through its regular budget process.

If Congress fails to reach an agreement on the fiscal budget, it has to enact a continuing funding resolution, which allows the Congress to use temporary funding to support the federal government for a limited period of time.

However, when the Congress fails again in reaching the continuing funding resolution, the federal government will be forced to "shutdown," which signifies a complete breakdown in U.S. budget process.

During the past five years since 2013, the "shutdown" in the U.S. is no longer surprising to either U.S. citizens or the international audience, who are getting used to this "new normal," to some extent.

In January 2018, U.S. federal government shutdown for almost three days because the Senate failed to pass a continuing resolution to extend spending until February 16, 2018. At that time, the Republicans failed to acquire enough Democrats for the 60 votes as required under the law.

As a result, the continuing resolution was made as a stopgap measure in order to buy time to pass the budget for the fiscal year 2018.

Political impact of the shutdown

There is a popular saying about the cause of the recent shutdown: "Donald Trump's negotiating style." Some believe that makes it more difficult, for both Democrats and Republicans, to reach a deal on the fiscal affairs.

As some Democrats claimed, Trump often veers wildly from one extreme to the other. For example, Trump has once told lawmakers in one meeting that "he'd sign any DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) bill that the Congress sends him," and then, issuing a list of hardline demands in the next meeting.

However, on another occasion, he went back on his words by rejecting a bipartisan DACA proposal, blowing up the negotiations at a critical juncture, not to forget his indecent and "politically incorrect" language portraying a group of African countries as "shithole countries."

What is different in form but highly consistent in essence is that the Republicans also beg their leader/president to tell them exactly what he'd accept in an agreement. And then “stick to it.”

Alternatively, they may feel even more frustrated, accusing the president of repeatedly backing out of commitments that he makes to them in private but breaks his promise soon after.

However, what has to be clarified is that all those various forms of U.S. federal government "shutdown" do not affect the structure of society in substance.

In other words, putting together deteriorating chaos of American politics and U.S.' resilient social management, outside observers may have wondered how such a vast society of 33 million can be maintained without a “central/federal government?”

In conclusion, the U.S. and its governance model are neither perfect heaven nor a demonized hell. Instead, for foreign observers, it is always an instructive textbook, rich in both positive experiences and negative lessons as well.

Wang Peng is an associate research fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.

Key Words: U.S. government   shutdown   causes   Wang Peng  

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