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Explainer: Who's to blame for the US shutdown and is there an end in sight?

It’s all about money, and a wall.

Government Shutdown Trump Trump delivers his TV address from the Oval Office. Source: Carlos Barria/PA Images

LAST NIGHT, US President Donald Trump made a live televised address as the deadlock continues over his insistence that a $5.7 billion wall is needed along the border with Mexico.

This impasse has led to a US government shutdown that has gone on for 19 days, the longest in over two decades.

But what exactly happens during a shutdown and how have we got to this point?

Firstly, regardless of the political reasons behind a shutdown, it literally happens because of money. And specifically where the money comes from.

In the US, federal spending (spending by the national government, rather than states) must be approved by Congress. That means that both houses must approve bills detailing spending plans.

A shutdown happens when Congress can’t agree on a budget plan before the deadline, meaning a spending bill is passed.

This means there is effectively no money allocated to operate government departments and agencies and pay people who work for them.

Source: NBC News/YouTube

What is actually ‘shut down’?

This particular shutdown is a partial government shutdown because a number of bills were passed to fund several departments, but some major departments are without funding.

Among them are the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the State Department.

It is estimated that 800,000 workers are affected, meaning they are forced to either stay at home or work without pay until the government is funded.

The shutdown of course hits many other people indirectly, with national parks closed, court cases put on hold and even security operations at airports affected.

Other vital services ares still provided, such as policing, immigration officers, the central bank, veterans’ hospitals and the military.

Why can’t they just agree on the funding?

This is the third shutdown under the Trump presidency following two other brief shutdowns last year, but what is different about this one is that Democrats are in a much stronger position opposed the US President.

Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in last year’s midterms so the president must have their consent on many domestic matters, spending included.

This means that Trump has been forced to try and work with Democratic leaders in attempt find enough common ground on budgetary matters. 

A meeting between Trump, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer In December did not go well.

schume trump Trump speaks to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Source: Michael Reynolds/PA Images

It what amounted to a televised row between the three, Trump insisted that funding for a border wall must form part of any budget package.

Trump even went so far as to say he will ensure a shutdown happens if this does not happen.

I will shut down the government,” Trump said. “I am proud to shut down the government for border security.”

In last night’s TV address, Trump claimed that Democrats “will not fund border security”.

This is not true, in fact Democrats have passed legislation offering to support $1.3 billion for border security. This includes physical barriers and technology along the US southern border.

They refuse however to support the $5.7 billion in funding for the building of a steel wall, which Pelosi last night described as “expensive and ineffective”.

There had been speculation that Trump would use last night’s speech to declare a national emergency, allowing him to use military funding for the wall and bypass Congress, but this did not happen.

So what will actually happen next?

Compromise is usually key to sorting these things out, but at present it doesn’t look like either side has much appetite for that.

Trump’s promised border wall was a central pledge of his campaign and was massively popular with many of his base supporters.

So for the president, he may feel like delivering it is an absolute must if he has any chance of reelection. Others argue though that Trump may not ultimately need the wall, that all he must do is to be seen to be fighting for it.

If the wall doesn’t happen, he can blame Democrats for blocking it when in fact the wall proposal was always fanciful at best.

Government Shutdown Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi deliver their party's response to Trump. Source: Alex Brandon/PA Images

Trump’s Republican Party may also step in and seek to have Trump drop or water down his demands on the wall.

At the moment, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that the border wall plan “suits the reality on the ground”.

His position is therefore supportive of Trump’s stance but other Republicans are sounding less staunch.

Funding for the border wall would be part of the funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security, but Trump has said that Republican Senators should not pass any other funding bills either until the border issue is solved.

While McConnell also backs this stance, others have sounded less sure about it.

Asked whether he may break ranks and support some bills that aren’t connected to border security, Senator Marco Rubio replied: “Potentially”.

“I don’t want to take away any of the president’s leverage, but I don’t think shutdowns are good for him — or for us or for anyone. It’s certainly not good for Americans,” Rubio said.

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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