The federal government shutdown has been going on for more than a week. The stories of unmet needs are mounting: Head Start programs have had to shut their doors, children sick with cancer have had to forgo treatment that they get from the National Institute of Health, and inspections of foreign food imports have been cutback. Here in Washington, our Department of Labor recently announced that state employees who work in the unemployment program were asked to fill out their own applications for unemployment insurance because of having to be furloughed.
At the heart of the budget impasse is a disagreement over defunding the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or “Obamacare”). Republicans want to pass a continuing resolution on the budget that defunds the ACA or delays implementation of the ACA’s requirement for individuals to have insurance coverage for a year. Democrats want Congress to pass a “clean CR,” that is, a continuing resolution that does not add on any new requirements in order to keep programs and services running while giving time to Congress to work out their differences over the ACA and entitlement spending issues.
As each day of the shutdown continues, polls are showing that more and more Americans are getting angry over the loss of jobs and services. The Republican strategy has been to pass legislation that reopens government on a piecemeal basis by restoring programs whose closure has made for terrible headlines. The Democrats have been mostly unified in rejecting these bills, maintaining that we are only truly helping those vulnerable families at risk by opening the entire government at once so that all of their programs and services are restored and in place.
Thankfully, food and nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), school meals, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, all have funding to continue services through the end of the month. But if Congress does not resolve this impasse over our budget by Oct. 17, America is at risk for a financial crisis.
The risk stems from the possibility of our having reached our debt limit. Our country will not be able to borrow any more money to pay for any services and programs unless Congress agrees to raise the debt limit, and that has been one of the sticking points in preventing an agreement over our budget. The latest reports out of Washington provide some hope: apparently there is growing agreement between members of both parties to temporarily raise the debt ceiling and reopen the government to allow for more time to agree on a final budget.