What Does The Government Shutdown Really Mean? A Senate Insider Breaks It Down

Meghan Blalock

Photo via Getty Images

In case you live under the biggest rock ever, we here in the United States are experiencing a real-life “government shutdown.” You might have heard that this hasn’t happened since 1996, and that’s it a fairly major deal, but aside from that: it’s kind of a confusing situation.

Here are a few things it means for the average citizen. Number one: don’t plan any trips to national parks or other nationally-funded attractions like the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island because all those things are now closed indefinitely. 

It also has implications beyond that, many of which aren’t the most logical or straightfoward. So we enlisted the help of one senior Senate aide on the Hill, who gave us the lowdown on what it all really means, in layman’s terms. Educate yourself below!

[Ed Note: Because the government is technically not currently operational, our source spoke on the condition of anonymity, as he’s technically not allowed to be “working” at this time.]

In laymans’ terms, what is a government shutdown? It sounds like everything just stops functioning. Is that accurate?
A shutdown is more accurately described as a temporary suspension of some government funding. Essential government services—the Post Office, air traffic controllers, and the military, for example—will continue operations with no noticeable difference. National parks will close and many non-essential federal workers will be furloughed, but it’s important to keep in mind that the government has shut down 17 times since the mid-1970s. There was a shutdown every year that Jimmy Carter was president.

So what caused this shutdown? 
The shutdown was caused because Republicans in the House believe the health care law (i.e. ObamaCare) should be repealed or delayed. The Administration has given waivers and delays to unions and businesses, and Republicans wanted to offer the same relief to individuals. They also want Congress and the Administration to be subject to the health law’s requirements (rather than getting special subsidies as they will under current regulations).

The President and Senate Democrats, on the other hand, insisted that they are not going to change Obamacare. Since a government funding bill is one of the few must-pass pieces of legislation, House Republicans believe this is one of their only opportunities to exert some leverage. 

How can the average citizen expect the shutdown to affect them?
Most people likely won’t notice much change in their daily lives. Even in Washington D.C., public transit is still running. Parks and museums run by the federal government will not be open, but private museums won’t see any change. IRS audits will be suspended, but I doubt many people will be complaining about that.

How long can we expect this to last?
No one knows for sure how long it will last, but most recent ones have only been a couple of days. The longest one, from 1995-1996, lasted about 20 days.

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