The U.S. is moving toward a government shutdown. House and Senate appropriators are divided on spending levels, policy riders and additional items, such as support for Ukraine.
As a political scientist who studies the evolving budget process, as well as brinksmanship in Congress, it is clear to me that this episode prompts many important questions for how the U.S. is governed.
There’s the larger, long-term question: What are the costs of congressional dysfunction?
But the more immediate concern for people of the country is how a shutdown will affect them. Whether delayed business loans, slower mortgage applications, curtailed food assistance or postponed food inspections, the effects could be substantial.
The total federal budget is almost US$6 trillion. A little over one-fourth is discretionary spending that is funded by the annual appropriations process and thus debated in Congress. This portion of spending provides money for virtually every federal agency, roughly half of which goes to defense. The rest of yearly federal spending is on mandatory entitlement programs, mainly Social Security and Medicare, as well as interest on the national debt.
The Office of Management and Budget, which oversees both development of federal budget plans by federal agencies and their performance, regularly requires agencies to develop shutdown plans. Because agencies continually update these plans, no two shutdowns are exactly alike. Details depend on the agency, program and duration of the shutdown, as well as laws passed with funding since the previous shutdown, and the administration’s priorities. These plans identify a variety of ways the shutdown will affect Americans.
If a shutdown happens this year, new loan approvals from the Small Business Administration will stop. The Federal Housing Administration will experience delays in processing home mortgage loans and approvals. The Department of Agriculture will not offer new farm loans. Head Start grants will not be awarded, initially affecting 10,000 young children from low-income families who are in the program.
Some food inspections by the Food and Drug Administration, workplace safety inspections by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and environmental safety inspections by the Environmental Protection Agency could be delayed, as they have been when the government stopped functioning in the past.
During the last shutdown, about 60,000 immigration hearings, organized by the Department of Justice and not the courts, were canceled and had to be rescheduled. This year would also see cases involving noncitizens who are not being held by the government reset for a later date, even as other immigration services proceed.
Infrastructure projects awaiting approval from the Environmental Protection Agency could be stalled. The National Institute of Health’s clinical trials for diseases could also be slowed.