2018 government shutdown
Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sometimes, even Washington, D.C. closes. On January 19th, after Congress failed to extend government funding, the government shut down until further notice. But what is a government shutdown?

Despite what the name implies, a government shutdown does not mean that all government operations grind to a halt. Instead, only “nonessential” government functions stop, while duties required to keep the country functioning continue. Members of Congress receive pay during the government’s closure, but other federal employees like national park staff and active duty military do not.

A shutdown is triggered whenever Congress fails to pass funding for the government — a rule that has been in place since 1980.

The current shutdown went on for three days. But 2018 is not the first year that the government has shut down. In October 2013 under President Barack Obama, the federal government ceased nonessential operations for 16 days. And under President Bill Clinton, the government shut down twice, in 1995 and 1996, due to disagreements about federal spending.

Notably, this year is the first time government operations have experienced a full shutdown while a president’s party controls both houses of Congress. Government funding must be passed with 60 votes in the Senate, so Republicans, who have a 51-49 majority, were unable to prevent the shutdown on their own.

The Senate voted to fund the federal government for three weeks today, January 22nd, reopening the government.

The 2018 shutdown was caused by disagreements over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The Trump administration announced in September that it would end the DACA program, giving Congress until March 5th to extend it. Congressional Democrats threatened not to fund the government without a DACA replacement. And although a group of senators drafted a bipartisan DACA replacement, Trump rejected the proposal on January 11th.

As part of negotiations to reopen the government, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised that if no DACA replacement has been agreed on by February 8th, the Senate will discuss DACA. Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the authors of the bipartisan DACA replacement, also advocated for this three-week extension.

Passing a DACA replacement is incredibly important for the 800,000 DACA Dreamers who were brought here as children. We’re glad that the Senate was able to quickly end the shutdown, but now senators need to keep their word and pass a DACA replacement before it’s too late.