Millions of Americans are already affected by the shutdown. Federal employees aren’t getting a paycheck (right at the end of the holiday season no less.) Others are being told their food stamps aren’t guaranteed if the shutdown continues. There is already real damage happening, and it will only get worse.
How did we get here? Why is it still a problem? Is there anything we can do?
How did we get here?
At the end of the 115th Congress, we hit a deadline to renew funding for a third of the federal agencies. Ideally, we’d have an annual budget that took care of all of our agencies for one year, but since Congress hasn’t been able to agree on the budget, we’ve been patching together funding for these agencies with something called continuing resolutions.
Since the President sends his requests for the budget to Congress, having the leaders of the two chambers negotiate with the White House is normal. Clearly, the Senate leaders–Mitch McConnell (R) and Chuck Schumer (D)–had an agreement with Trump and went on to pass the continuing resolution on Dec. 19.
It’s important to understand that 1) it was passed unanimously, i.e. every Republican and Democrat in the Senate voted for it, and 2) the Senate’s continuing resolution did NOT include funding for the Wall.
Then, before the House could pass a similar continuing resolution, Trump freaked out thanks to the goading of some loud voices on the far-right and demanded money for the Wall. So, the House, under the leadership of Speaker Paul Ryan (R), passed a continuing resolution with $5B for the Wall.
With the Senate and House bills in conflict, they had two choices: reconcile the two bills and send the final bill to Trump for his signature, or do nothing. Essentially, they chose to do nothing and the government shut down.
So where are we today?
When the 115th Congress ended (which it did as soon as the 116th Congress was sworn in), both of the continuing resolution bills the Senate and House had passed expired. In fact every piece of legislation that had been introduced, or was in committee, or starting to be debated, expired. The 116th starts from scratch.
On the first day of Congress, Nancy Pelosi–the new Speaker of the House with a Democratic majority–passed a continuing resolution in order to end the shutdown. What she passed was identical to what the Senate had passed at the end of the 115th Congress, i.e. without money for the Wall.
What’s supposed to happen next is that Mitch McConnell brings legislation to the floor of the Senate for a vote.
But he hasn’t.
McConnell hasn’t done a thing. All he’s said was that he’s waiting to hear what it is that the President will sign. But of course, that’s not McConnell’s job. As Senate majority leader, he is supposed to bring legislation to the floor for a vote. The Senate is a separate branch of government, and equal in power to the President. McConnell is not supposed to wait for a permission slip (hat tip to Senator Durbin (D) for the turn of phrase). As many in the media have pointed out, McConnell could simply reintroduce the legislation the Senate passed at the end of the last Congress–unanimously, remember?–and then send it to the President.
The only way to end the shutdown is to have both chambers pass a continuing resolution and have the President sign it. The President doesn’t have anything to sign (or veto, for that matter) because McConnell hasn’t had the Senate vote on anything. Even McConnell’s home newspaper is calling him out on it: McConnell, stop sitting on your hands. End this government shutdown
So what can we do?
The first thing that has to happen to end the shutdown is for McConnell to introduce legislation for the Senators to vote on. Interestingly, one of McConnell’s own party members, Cory Gardner (R-CO) called on McConnell to bring legislation up for a vote, even without the Wall funding. He feels the government needs to get back to work and that debates can happen after that.
So that’s what we can do, we can each call our 2 Senators, no matter what party they’re in, and let them know what we want them to do. Look up your Senators’ contact info HERE. Here is a script you can use for a phone call:
Hi, I’m calling from [ZIP] to ask that the Senator support efforts to end the shutdown without funding a border wall. Can you tell me what the Senator is doing to make that happen?