By Zachary Toillion
In 2013, partisan disagreement over the federal budget led to a federal government shutdown that lasted 16 days. The shutdown was the third longest in United States history and took $24 billion out of the American economy. Government shutdowns in the United States are relatively rare. In American history, there have been 18 shutdowns, starting in 1976, but another shutdown appears increasingly likely before the end of the Obama Presidency.
Potential 2016 Presidential Candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) put the possibility of a shutdown on the table over the issue of President Obama acting unilaterally on immigration reform. This sentiment was echoed by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa.) who claimed “all bets are off” on funding the government via continuing resolution if Obama were to issue such an order.
President Obama has indicated he is considering executive action that would reshape immigration policy. The details have not been clearly specified but early reports indicated the order would deal with the issuing of work permits and the action would be taken in early September, around the time Congress reconvenes from summer recess. More recent reports claim President Obama is still considering the action, but will wait until after the 2014 mid term election. A bill funding the government would need to be passed by October 1st 2014 to prevent a new government shutdown.
Another potential government shutdown fight could ensue in 2015. After the 2014 elections, it is widely believed Republicans will have more leverage over a potential budget battle. Republicans are heavily favored to retain control of the House of Representatives, and are expected to pick up several seats in the Senate. The possibility also exists that Republicans will have enough seats to become the majority in the Senate. President Obama’s approval ratings at this point appears to be roughly the same as they were during the time of the shutdown in 2013. These factors give Republicans far more leverage than they had during the 2013 shutdown.
When questioned, current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) did not rule out a new shutdown. A shutdown in 2015 would likely be over cuts to spending.
The current federal budget deficit for 2014 is $506 billion, down from the $1.4 trillion deficit of 2009 when Obama first took office. Since Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives, economic growth combined with periodic budget battles and negotiations with Democrats have decreased the deficit by nearly 1 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office forecasts 40 billion in deficit reduction from economic growth alone next year. Republicans in the House and Senate support a plan that would balance the budget, and most of them support amending the constitution to require balanced budgets. which would require additional deficit reduction of about $460 billion.
Compounding the issue is the expiration of the US debt ceiling on March 15th, 2015. The last debt ceiling vote passed very narrowly on a vote of 221-201 in the house, with most votes against the measure coming from the Republican caucus. If Republicans gain seats in the House of Representatives, which remains a strong possibility, such a vote will become even harder to pass without additional spending cuts-particularly if Republicans also control the Senate. The Obama administration’s official stance is to not negotiate over the debt ceiling, opting for debating spending cuts in budgetary battles. The irreconcilable positions of the two parties make a government shutdown in March even more likely.
When speaking about the budget at a private retreat, Sen. McConnell stated, “So in the House and Senate, we own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on health care, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board. All across the federal government, we’re going to go after it.”
One factor that may prevent a shutdown in October is simply the timing. If a shutdown were to occur it would go into effect 33 days before the midterm elections, and incumbents of both parties may be unwilling to take such a risk. The next budget battle could come at two different points after the midterm elections, sometime in 2015 when a budget is set, and in March when Congress will decide whether or not to raise the debt ceiling, both occur shortly after the new Congress is sworn in. Only time will tell if negotiations or lack thereof result in yet another government shutdown.