Legislative 101Tax & Budget

The Trump Shutdown, Explained


*Update: On January 22, most Senate Democrats gave in to Trump and the Republicans by agreeing to a three-week extension that doesn’t provide relief for Dreamers, but does fund their deportation. They gave in to Republican pressure at the expense of Dreamers, our communities, and our ability to fight against Trump’s racist agenda. And they all need to be held accountable—see the bottom of this document for new call scripts and tactics.

Republicans control the House, the Senate, and the White House. And yet, their inability to govern and their complicity in Trump’s racist attacks on immigrants has caused a government shutdown this week. This document is divided into two parts: “Shutdown 101,” which explains why a government shutdown occurs and what happens when it does, and “The Trump Shutdown,” which explains how we got to where we are now and responds to unfounded Republican political attacks.

Shutdown 101

First, a few pieces of DC jargon defined:

“CR”: A continuing resolution, this is government-on-autopilot, or a temporary band-aid. It continues current funding levels for a duration of time (usually short, sometimes only a few days or weeks) set by Congress.

“Omnibus”: This is a set of twelve funding bills, which Congress is supposed to pass every year, rolled into one giant funding bill. This funding typically lasts a year.

“CRomnibus”: This is a combination of the two. In a “CRomnibus,” some government departments have their funding extended for a year, and some departments have their funding extended only for a short term on auto-pilot. Congress used this approach in 2015.

Why do government shutdowns happen? Congress has to fund the government on an annual basis. When they fail to do that, they pass a “CR” until they are able to pass an annual funding bill. If funding expires, the government shuts down. Why does that happen? Most often, it’s because the House and Senate, or Congress and the White House, can’t agree on legislation that funds the government moving forward. Previous shutdowns have occurred when opposite parties controlled at least one chamber of Congress and the White House. Right now, Republicans control the House, the Senate, and the White House -- so keeping the government open should be a basic function they can carry out. Government shutdowns can be avoided by passing a CR, an omnibus, or a combination of the two (a “CRomnibus”).

What happens during a shutdown? When there is no funding bill in place that authorizes government spending, government agencies have to stop operating (except in certain cases) in order to comply with a law called the Antideficiency Act. Some government operations continue, however. For example, Social Security payments continue, because they are funded differently from annual funding bills.

Examples of government functions that STOP during a shutdown:

  • Federal employees generally do not report to work
  • The National Institutes of Health stop accepting new patients
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stop surveilling diseases
  • National Parks close
  • Applications for visas and passports are not processed
  • The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) stops operating in certain states
  • Some Head Start programs close

In addition, a shutdown poses a national security threat, as an unforeseen crisis may require a response from an agency that is partially or fully shut down. Further, there is a perceived weakness or vulnerability from a foreign policy perspective when the US government is “shut down.”

For more information on government shutdowns generally, check out this Congressional Research Service report.

The Trump Shutdown

On January 11, Donald Trump and some of his allies in Congress blew up an existing bipartisan agreement to avert a shutdown, in service to their most racist ideas about America. This happened just one day after Trump said he would sign whatever agreement Congress sent him. It is clear that after months of negotiations to protect Dreamers, Democrats are working with a President that is negotiating in bad faith.

Remember, it was Donald Trump who announced he was unilaterally ending the DACA program, which provides relief for 800,000 young immigrants. These children go to our schools, live and work in our communities, and have families here in America. Yet Donald Trump put them at risk of deportation. And then he blew up an existing agreement to protect them because he doesn’t support diversity visas, because they allow immigrants from what he calls “shithole countries.”

Republicans control government -- the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives -- and keeping it open is their obligation, a fundamental function of their control of government. Democrats agreed to more time for negotiation in September, again on December 9, and again on December 22. With an average of 122 Dreamers losing their protections everyday, and with bad faith negotiation borne of racism and hate on the part of Donald Trump, the time for negotiating is over. Republicans must make a choice: honor the bipartisan agreement between Republicans and Democrats to avert a shutdown or stand with Trump and shut the government down.

Now that the government has shut down, it will end when Republican Congressional leaders put forward legislation that can pass both chambers of Congress. At this point, they don’t even have the support of 50 Republicans in the Senate, let alone Democrats. Republicans can end the Trump Shutdown by standing up to his racism and including the existing bipartisan legislation to protect Dreamers in the CR that funds the government.

Republicans' (failed) lines of attack

“Democrats are shutting the government down to give amnesty to illegal immigrants.”

This is not the case. Republicans control the White House, the Senate, and the House but they have not put forward legislation to fund the government that can pass both chambers of Congress. It is their obligation to keep the government running. DACA recipients are also lawfully present -- they are children who have lived in America for years, in many cases their entire lives, and they were here lawfully under a government program that grants them lawfully present status until Donald Trump unilaterally ended it.

“Democrats are hurting our military.”

This is also not true. Republicans want to throw even more money at the Pentagon -- so much more money, that they’d need a new agreement in Congress to do it in order to bust through the “sequester caps” that Republicans themselves imposed. The fact is, our existing military is not underfunded. It is not underprepared. Republicans want the CR to allow even more bloated spending to flow to the Pentagon and they’re not getting their way -- but that is a very different story from “Democrats are hurting the military.” Military personnel have always received back pay for any lost salary during a government shutdown.

“Democrats are holding up CHIP.”

Republicans allowed CHIP funding to expire at the end of September. They have used CHIP as a political bargaining tool since then. Even though there is bipartisan support for extending CHIP for ten years, Republicans put a shorter six year reauthorization -- paired with repeal of certain Affordable Care Act provisions -- into the proposed CR to try to pit CHIP and Dream against each other, dividing Democrats. If anyone is holding up CHIP funding, it’s the Republicans that control Congress and the White House that could have extended funding months ago.

“DACA is not an imminent issue. We have until March.”

An average of 122 Dreamers lose their protection from deportation everyday. Since Donald Trump unilaterally ended DACA in September, over 16,000 Dreamers have lost protection. This makes the urgency for protecting Dreamers now. Plus, this Republican Congress has a habit of missing deadlines (see the CHIP paragraph above) so Congress must do this now.

“Democrats are closing your national parks and hurting federal employees.”

Again, if a government shutdown is not averted, it will be because Republicans did not put forward legislation that could pass both of the chambers of Congress they control. It is true that national parks will close for as long as Republicans fail to re-open the government. But federal employees have always received back pay for any lost salary during a government shutdown. It’s also worth noting that Republicans have demonized federal employees for years -- consistently proposing pay freezes, pay cuts, and the elimination of jobs that hurt federal employees. Any newfound concern they have for our federal workforce is a disingenuous fabrication.

Take Action During the Trump Shutdown

Tell them: Dreamers need MoCs who will fight alongside them -- not cave at the first opportunity.

Click here to see which MoCs are Dream Heroes, and thank them by using this call script.

Click here to see which MoCs are Dream Killers, and hold them accountable using this call script.

And use our new toolkit to thank your MoC for fighting alongside Dreamers if they were a Dream Hero -- or hold them accountable if they were a Dream Killer.