Government shutdown is now a reality

The 113th Congress caused a “shutdown” of most federal government agencies today due to its failure to complete the standard yearly process of funding the government for the coming fiscal year (FY).

The failure was caused by a disagreement between Senate Democrats and House Republicans over Republican-authored amendments to the budgeting bill that would delay the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) during FY 2013-2014. Both the first day of the fiscal year and the new health care exchanges open today.

The shutdown will stop most government agencies from functioning past programs which were already appropriated for. This means many federal workers will take furloughs and only “essential” workers will remain in place.

Effect of shutdown on public universities and colleges

The U.S. Department of Education published a contingency plan Sept. 27 in case of a shutdown. According to the memorandum, 90 percent of its workers would be furloughed during the first week of a government shutdown, leaving only those who have been Presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed, as well as security workers. The shutdown would leave the “obligation, payment, and support of student financial aid as well as other authorized payments and obligations.”

Secured funds include $22 billion already appropriated in the 2013 budget, for student financial aid in the form of Pell Grants, Direct Loans and other programs like Federal Work Study can continue without significant damage. Other programs like “Race to the Top and Promise Neighborhoods” will only last through Dec. 31.

Lili Vidal, director of the CSUN Financial Aid and Scholarship Department, remains confident that her department will function as normal.

“We do not anticipate any impact on students if the shutdown is relatively short,” Vidal said. “Because federal financial aid is forward-funded by Congress, we should not have a problem awarding and paying students this year. A lengthy shutdown could delay our ability to make timely awards for 2014-15.”

According to the Department of Education memorandum, more than 14 million students at over 6,600 schools will receive financial aid through Pell Grants and Direct Student Loans. If the shutdown remains in place for a significant amount of time, payments may be delayed due to a shortage of staff to process the payments.

Congress succeeded in passing a bill to continue funding the military if a shutdown were to take place. Some in Congress floated the idea of voting to fund the government for another week, but the idea was unpopular in both parties, as both Democrats and Republicans do not want to budge on their support or opposition for Obamacare.

Political gridlock: the road to shutdown

This is the first government shutdown to take place since December 1995. Over the last few years, Congress has been close to causing shutdowns or close to defaulting on the national debt due to political gridlock over issues like health care and taxes.

The failed bill, H.J. Res. 59, the Continuing Appropriations Resolution for 2014, was first introduced in the House on Sept. 10, to continue budgeting for the various departments and agencies making up the federal government until Dec. 15. However, Republicans in the house tacked on an amendment to the bill on Sept. 20 to halt any federal funds to carry out the PPACA or “Obamacare.”

The bill was sent to the Senate, which sent the bill back to the House on Friday without the Obamacare amendment and changed the resolution date to Nov. 15.

The House amended the bill again and voted on Saturday to delay Obamacare for one year and repeal a medical devices tax that was created by the healthcare legislation. The Senate rejected the amendments and Monday, delivered the bill back to the House, taking negotiations back to square one. The House did not budge against the Senate, voting again on a bill that would delay the individual mandate required by the PPACA.

Though many provisions of Obamacare have been implemented since 2010, as well as upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Republican party is still adamantly opposed to President Obama’s signature legislation. Within the GOP, this crusade against Obamacare is driven by “freshmen” congressmen who represent the Tea Party, such as Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Cruz, who led a 22-hour filibuster against Obamacare on Tuesday, is being credited with the budget hold up and the consequential government shutdown.

Some more moderate Republican members failed in an attempt to rally support in their party to pass a “clean” appropriations bill, without any amendments that make government funding contingent upon delaying Obamacare.

House majority speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has supported his party’s decision to use the appropriations bill as leverage against Obamacare. In a statement after a closed-door meeting with Republican members of Congress just hours before the shutdown, he reiterated that the campaign against Obamacare in relation to the appropriations bill was an issue of “fairness.”

“We’ve spent the last hour and a half meeting with our Members,” Boehner said in the statement. “And it’s pretty clear that what our Members want is fairness for the American people. The president provided a one year delay of the employer mandate. He’s provided exceptions for unions and others. There’s even exceptions for Members of Congress. We believe that everyone should be treated fairly. So we’re going to move here in the next several hours to take the Senate bill, add to it a one year delay of the individual mandate on the American people. And get rid of the exemption for Members of Congress. It’s a matter of fairness for all Americans.”

In a press conference Monday, President Obama called House Republicans actions as the “height of irresponsibility.”

“All of this is entirely preventable if the House chooses to do what the Senate has already done,” Obama said. “And that’s the simple act of funding our government without making extraneous and controversial demands in the process, the same way other Congresses have for more than 200 years.

“Unfortunately, right now House Republicans continue to tie funding of the government to ideological demands like limiting a woman’s access to contraception or delaying the Affordable Care Act, all to save face after making some impossible promises to the extreme right wing of their party.”

President Obama also said that despite the shutdown, the PPACA will remain the law and that the health care exchanges will not close.

“The Affordable Care Act is moving forward. That funding is already in place. You can’t shut it down. This is a law that passed both Houses of Congress, a law that bears my signature, a law that the Supreme Court upheld as constitutional, a law that voters chose not to repeal last November. Those things are already happening. Starting tomorrow, tens of millions of Americans will be able to visit to shop for affordable healthcare coverage.”