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Shutdown: a 50/50 Congress Hurts More Than Americans

Written by Bryson Agnew

Edited by Annika Lilja

“A split House.” 2024 is not the first time this statement has been made. In the American Election of 1824, otherwise known as the “Corrupt Bargain,” it took a shocking 33 stalemates in the House of Representatives before John Quincy Adams was elected president. This phrase reemerged again in late 2018 when there was a U.S. government shutdown. Americans anxiously waited for Congress to agree on a budget plan for 9 federal agencies, all of which affected things like global programs (Department of State), highway maintenance (Department of Transportation), and perhaps affecting the most people, jobs. This state of disagreement continued for over a month until a budget was finally agreed on with H.J. Resolution 28.  

A lot can be learned from the 2018 crisis, which had both successes and failures. As I will explain later, certain Federal employees can not work during a shutdown. Those who are not allowed to work cannot be paid until after the shutdown, and therefore, a system had to be put in place for when the shutdown ended. Arguably, one of the biggest wins by the federal government at this time was the implementation of repayment for affected workers. Despite the delays and chaos the shutdown brought, the Federal Government was able to repay its employees for the month they were not compensated. On the other hand, there were a number of employees who went to work under the premise that they would be paid later, doing their jobs in place of earning extra income. The Federal Government cannot take a sick day.

The House and Senate are together responsible for a number of topics: military, monopolies, etc. The problem is that now, the number of issues Congress is responsible for has increased exponentially. Not only do these issues affect much of the United States, but they have an effect on huge portions of the world: Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Sahel, and Latin America to name a few. The real difference is that in the last 200 years, America has further established itself as an international peacemaker – rushing to aid those who appear in need. Now, with lawmakers sometimes spending weeks at an impasse, the future is uncertain. For some, this may be a week without food because Congress cannot agree on a method of delivery. For others, this may mean an increase in prices because of a lack of trade.  No matter which country you are reading this from, this matters.

What is a shutdown?  

In American politics, this refers to when Congress is unable to agree on how to fund federal agencies. This can affect anything from student loans to mail service. If a deal is not made in the House by a certain deadline, agencies can be suspended until the next voting period, except for employees the government sees as essential, such as soldiers, federal prison officers, and TSA agents. Unfortunately, despite being required to work, until a new funding bill is passed, essential employees are not paid. Instead, they are rewarded for their work possibly months later. For those who have to pay rent, credit card bills, and other recurring expenses, this can be a matter of life or death, with essential employees serving the United States being forced to scramble to find extra work, on top of the position they are not actively being paid for.  Consequently, many quit, further hampering the efficiency of these services.

On a larger scale, what does this have to do with political parties? The House of Representatives is currently led by Republicans, who were elected to represent the values of the people who elected them. An unintended consequence of the legislative system is the power given to factions. For example, in years past, a faction of Republicans refused to approve funding if their stance on the US-Mexico border was not heeded. Much of this funding was irrelevant to the border issue, but a shutdown was threatened nonetheless. This is a risk regardless of which party has the majority.

So, what does this have to do with the rest of the world? The Department of State is one of, if not the most important Federal Agency. It is in charge of managing foreign affairs, and its secretary is one of the most influential figures in the Capital.  There are a number of pressing issues in the world right now, but there are also perennial ones, such as diplomatic relations with China, oil extraction in Canada, visas for migrants, and more. When a shutdown occurs, many employees responsible for travel, agriculture, and consular services can be forced to quit or are even furloughed. 

On March 22nd, the House of Representatives yet again narrowly approved a bill that prevented a shutdown. The United States influences much of the global economy and politics, so the possibility of it shutting down is certainly scary. However, as I mentioned before, this did happen in 2018. The solution – organization.  How this country, and governments in general, succeed is through coolness in stressful situations. Keep calm, and vote on.



Congressional Budget Office.  The Effects of the Partial Shutdown Ending in January 2019, U.S. Government Printing Office, January 2019,

Callen, Tim.   Gross Domestic Product: An Economy’s All, International Monetary Fund. Accessed 6 April 2024

Editors, “Presidential Election Decided in the House.” HISTORY, 9 Feb 2010, 

Wagner, Erich. “A Bill to Protect Feds during Shutdowns Is Back, This Time with Debt Default Safeguards Too.” Government Executive, Government Executive, 7 Mar 2023, 

Yilek, Kaitlyn.  “House to Vote on Second Funding Package as Lawmakers Race to Avoid Shutdown.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 22 March 2024,    

United States Office of Personnel Management. Guidance for Shutdown Furloughs, U.S. Government Printing Office, 2016,


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