It’s a January fixture in the U.S. calendar: the President’s State of the Union speech, delivered to the joint houses of Congress, and broadcast directly to the nation. This year’s was scheduled for 29 January but has been postponed because of the federal shutdown resulting from the struggle between President Trump and Congress over the federal budget.
The shutdown began on 22 December, and is the longest in U.S. history. It has lasted 35 days so far, leaving 800,000 federal employees without pay and federal services in disarray. President Trump accepted a 3-week budget extension on 25 January to allow federal agencies to re-open. Three weeks in which to find a compromise. But if that isn’t found, the shutdown could start again.
The shutdown doesn’t effect all of government, only about 25% who work for agencies whose annual budgets have to be approved by Congress. These include the armed forces, the FBI, air-traffic control, National Parks and the tax administration.
The newly elected Congress, with a Democratic majority after the Midterm elections, has refused to pass the President’s budget because of the $5.7 billion it contains for the border wall Trump promised in his election campaign. This would be a first payment towards the project, which is budgeted at $20 billion.
Shutdowns are fairly frequent events —there have been 21 since the current budget system was introduced in 1976 though only 7 lasted more than 10 days. Presidents Clinton and Obama both experienced long ones.
But this prolonged shutdown is causing major financial problems for workers. If their jobs are considered essential, they are required to work even though they aren’t being paid. Certain services are considered non-essential and are closed down for the duration of the shutdown. Workers are put on unvoluntary leave called furlough — an unpaid holiday in a sense. Workers who have federal contracts should receive backpay for the shutdown once a budget is finally passed. But many workers on temporary contracts are likely to never see a penny.
The Washington Post reported that the state of Virginia has hired furloughed workers as substitute teachers. As news stories flourish of food banks running out of food, and workers crowdfunding their own salaries, the popularity of Congress, and more specifically Donald Trump, is taking a hit.