What makes it “Partial”?

Dear Group,

Why a “partial” shutdown? Why isn’t it a “full” shutdown? That’s a pretty basic question for which I didn’t have an answer. In a media ecosystem of soundbites I often find the basic information necessary to understand what’s going on is left out of the discussion. 

The federal fiscal year (the “year” established for accounting purposes) runs from October 1 of one year to September 30 of the next. If Congress hasn’t “appropriated” (authorized the money to be made available) to the fifteen departments of the executive branch before October 1 then the money starts to run out. In 2018 the October 1 deadline passed but funding continued on a series of “Continuing Resolutions” until December 21. (A continuing resolution says the departmental funding will continue at the same level as the previous appropriations bill until some specific date.)

The shutdown is “partial” because the 115th Congress (that just ended) passed some appropriations bills (not just continuing resolutions) during 2018 that provided money to six of the fifteen departments for fiscal year 2019 (which ends September 30, 2019). Those departments have money with which to function. In fact the appropriations bills that were passed and signed by Trump for those six departments cover roughly 75% of the discretionary budget. The departments that have money already include the Pentagon (Department of Defense—a big spender) as well as the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor. 

The other nine departments received no more money from the Treasury after the continuing resolutions ran out on December 21. As a result they have to cut back services and require employees deemed “essential” to work without a paycheck (but with the hope they will get their money later). You can read a fairly comprehensive fact sheet on what our current record-breaking partial shutdown affects here. There is a superb wikipedia article on the current shutdown with a lot more background and detail here.

All this brings me to two rhetorical points: 1) Six departments are already funded under appropriations bills passed in 2018 AND there are appropriations bills covering the other departments on Mitch McConnell’s desk, sent there by the House. On what ground does he refuse to bring them to the Senate floor, apart from his own petulance? 2) The current shutdown might never have happened if the Department of Defense were not already funded. Can you imagine the wailing if Trump were responsible for demanding the military to serve without pay? 

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. I wonder what percentage of voters were taught about this process in high school Civics (or learned it on their own). I was certainly fuzzy on the details… One way to look at the current partial shutdown is to use it as an opportunity to learn some of the detail of how the government budget process is supposed to work.

P.P.S. Rush Limbaugh is touting the partial shutdown as a way get rid of some of what he considers the surplus, do-nothing federal workers, a classical Libertarian canard.