Republicans and Democrats have flirted with it for decades. President Trump made a hearty pitch for it with two tweets this morning, saying it would "fix the mess" in Washington.
It’s a government shutdown.
The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there! We....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 2, 2017
either elect more Republican Senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51%. Our country needs a good "shutdown" in September to fix mess!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 2, 2017
What does that mean? For the last several years, opposing sides of Congress have used the threat of shutting down the government as ammunition to get the other side to pass its version of the federal budget. This happened most recently in October 2013, when the federal government closed for 16 days in a battle over the Affordable Care Act.
So when a government shutdown occurs, what happens? "Nonessential" federal agencies are closed and their employees furloughed — up to 40 percent of the total. (During the 2013 shutdown, 800,000 employees out of 2 million were benched.) National parks such as Yellowstone and D.C.'s National Zoo are closed.
But not everything grinds to a halt. U.S. mail is still delivered and air-traffic controllers stay on the job, as do FBI agents, active duty military, the TSA, federal prison employees and the Department of Homeland Security. Social Security and SNAP (food stamps) benefits still go out, because they're mandatory entitlements that aren't subject to annual spending bills. Amtrak still runs, and federal courts stay open for the time being.
Yet there aren't hard-and-fast guidelines: Each federal agency can decide what a shutdown means to them. And it doesn't mean there aren't real costs: During the 2013 shutdown, the U.S. lost $24 billion in revenue, or $1.5 billion per day.
If it seems like a government shutdown is never far from discussion, that's because it almost happened in September 2015 and December 2016. There have been 17 shutdowns since the current congressional budget approval process began in 1976.
But there won't be one for the moment: Republicans and Democrats backed away from the brink to approve the current "skinny budget," which funds the government until September. Today, Trump tweeted about the benefits of a shutdown. He may get his chance; debate about the budget begins anew this fall.