What happens during a government shutdown? 7 things you should know


It may be a new year, but Congress is returning to the same old challenge it left behind in 2017 – agreeing on a budget.

And the deadline is looming. Lawmakers are trying to achiever a compromise on the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, build a wall on the Mexican border and agree to a limit on how much Congress can spend on military and domestic programs in order to prevent a government shutdown by next Friday.

Fox News asked Marc Goldwein, senior policy director of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget – a bipartisan, nonprofit organization that educates the public on fiscal policy issues – to explain a government shutdown, and he answered seven basic questions about the process that Americans should know.

What causes a government shutdown?

A shutdown occurs when Congress and the president fail to sign into law 12 appropriations bills (which determine spending for specific government agencies) in order to continue providing funding for government operations.

How can you prevent a government shutdown?

To avoid a shutdown, members of Congress can give themselves an extension, known as a continuing resolution (CR). The temporary funding measure keeps the federal government open and allows lawmakers more time to negotiate the remaining appropriations bills.

“The bar for a CR is pretty low. You’re not agreeing to anything new politically; it’s a no-brainer,” Goldwein told Fox News.

That’s exactly how the government has been operating since Oct. 1.

Funding has been extended twice since then. The House and Senate approved a temporary spending bill on Dec. 21, and Trump signed the measure to keep the government funded through Jan. 19.

With the frequency of CRs, Goldwein says he doesn’t anticipate a government shutdown.

“I expect as long as we can we’ll continue at least kicking the can with a CR,” Goldwein said. He added that he was “not saying it won’t happen, but it’s almost always in everyone’s interest to keep lights on rather than to shut the government down.”

How long does a government shutdown last?

As long as it takes. Congressional leaders from both parties have to reach an agreement to fund the government.

It usually takes a weekend for this to happen.

“We’re talking days or weeks – not months,” Goldwein said.

The federal government would be forced to shut down “nonessential services.” Who would be affected?

“Essential staff at top level agencies would continue working, but most federal employees whose jobs aren’t vital would likely be sent home,” Goldwein said.

For example, those who work at national parks, monuments and museums would be told to go home. 

“It doesn’t feel awesome to be told you’re not an essential employee. It’s a little demoralizing to go home because you’re not important,” Goldwein said.

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