The longest shutdown in United States history

Ysabela Golden

As of Sunday, Jan. 13, Trump’s border wall has now instigated the longest shutdown of government agencies in United States history. The previous record breaker was a 21 day shutdown in 1996 (a length less daunting now in retrospect) which had been driven by a very different budget conflict. Then-President Bill Clinton vetoed the republican majority’s significant budget cuts, concerned about hikes in medicare premiums and slashes in education and the environment.

This time, it’s the republicans trying to add to the budget with Trump’s demand of $5.7 billion dedicated to the construction of his Mexican border wall. Negotiation offers from the democrats have reached $1.6 billion – intended for multiple increases in border security, not purely for barrier construction – but Trump hasn’t budged. Having said earlier in the month that he’d “look foolish” if he accepted the democrats’ attempts to reopen the government during negotiations, it seems like if the matter is left to Trump, having $5.7 billion wall is a prerequisite to having a functional government.

He’s chosen quite the hill to die on, and that’s not an exaggeration – even his most loyal supporter in congress, Senator Lindsey Graham, has predicted a grim outcome for the president if he doesn’t get what he wants. “If he gives in now, that’s the end of 2019, in terms of him being an effective president,” Graham said. “That’s probably the end of his presidency.” 

As a solution, Graham has suggested that Trump follow through on his threat to override the legislative branch by declaring a state of national emergency and pushing the wall through that way. The rest of his party, though not all quite so extreme as Graham, have continued to support Trump’s unbudging style of negotiation. Despite still not participating in arbitration over the wall himself, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked bills from the democrats that attempted to re-open parts of the government unrelated to the wall debate on Jan. 10. Republicans and democrats were willing to come together to pass a bill ensuring furloughed federal workers back pay once the government opens again, but in the meantime those employees have already missed one paycheck, and there’s no clear indication that the government will be back open in time for them to get their next. 

Even more concerning, federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration are now dangerously low on funds. Though the FDA promises to monitoring public health issues that pose an imminent threat, the agency has lost 41 percent of its employees and warn that their response time to emergencies could be slower as a result. This is especially concerning considering how often the FDA had to declare emergencies over food safety in 2018, and are still trying to investigate what caused the latest crisis over E. coli bacteria in romaine lettuce as the shutdown continues, however long that will be. Trump tweeted at the end of the shutdown’s 22nd day that in order to understand his plan in this crisis,  Americans have to understand the promise he campaigned on. “Part of that promise was a Wall at the Southern Border,” he said. “Elections have consequences!” 

So we’ve noticed. Trump’s reputation might be damaged if he negotiates with the democrats, but 800,000 federal workers have already been harmed – and if important federal agencies like the FDA continue to go unfunded, so may the population at large.