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Why Is There A Government Shutdown? Congress Couldn't Reach A Deal

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At 11:59 p.m. ET on Friday, Jan. 19, government funding officially expired, and there is now a government shutdown. Yay, American democracy! It all sounds very dramatic — and it kind of is — but chances are that it won't totally affect your daily life. Still, it's important to understand why there is a government shutdown to begin with, because an informed public is the best type of public.

When it comes down to it, the reasoning is really, really simple: Congress just couldn't agree on a new spending deal. America has been facing a threat of a government shutdown over the past couple months. Congress was supposed to come up with an official spending plan, but hadn't made a long-term decision. Instead, since last fall, they had been passing temporary spending bills that essentially just gave them another month to make a decision.

This time around, they couldn't even agree on a short-term spending bill to give them more time. So instead, now, we're in a shutdown. Welcome!!!

This all came down to a lack of a majority vote in the Senate. The House actually did get enough votes to pass a temporary spending bill — a "continuing resolution" (CR) — before the deadline. In order to pass their own bill, the Senate had to get 60 votes in favor. As there is a Republican majority in Congress, this was a Republican bill. There are only 50 Republican senators (John McCain was unable to vote for health reasons), so the bill would've needed agreement from all 50 Republican senators along with 10 Democrats.

That was a hard line to pass as Democrats are wary of siding with Republicans, especially in a big election year, and especially as so many big policies need to be decided. Not to mention, not even all 50 Republican senators were totally on-board with the process. A handful of Republicans — including Senators Lindsey Graham, Mike Lee, and Jeff Flake — were essentially just tired of passing temporary bills instead of figuring out long-term solutions as deliberations raged on late this week.

Aside from spending itself, Democrats were pushing Republicans on specific issues, including figuring out a solution for Dreamers, who had been protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, and settling the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). We'll see if forcing this shutdown will lead to more or less cooperation between the warring parties.

As the Republican president of a Republican-majority Congress, this shutdown kinda falls on Donald Trump. He had apparently done some things to try and stop it from happening, including speaking with some senators (and sending out some ill-thought-out tweets that may have provoked deliberations more than anything else).

Things almost looked like they were taking a turn late Friday afternoon, when the president met with Senate Minority Leader (i.e. Democrat) Chuck Schumer. However, Trump's meeting with Schumer clearly didn't lead to the negotiation deal the president was hoping for. "We had a long and detailed meeting. We discussed all of the major outstanding issues. We made some progress, but we still have a good number of disagreements. The discussions will continue," Schumer said.

A handful of things stop in a government shutdown, and the people most affected are federal employees. The last time the government shut down, it was October 2013, and it lasted a little over two weeks. About 800,000 federal employees were furloughed without pay (that's not great). That shutdown cost the economy about $24 billion (again, not great).

During the 2013 shutdown, nonessential government services closed up — so think national parks, museums, and zoos. General government processes (like getting a passport) may also slow down with fewer people and organizations working, so be sure to plan ahead.

Oh, and sometimes trash collection stops in Washington D.C. for a shutdown. It made for a really good episode of Veep, which congresspeople may have time to watch now (though they really should be focusing on a new plan!).