In the UK the government controls a majority in the House of Commons and can compel its members to support its budget. In the US however, the President, House of Representatives, and Senate can find themselves opposed.
Presently, the House is controlled by the Republicans, the Senate controlled by the Democrats, setting the stage for a budget that eternally bounces between the two. This partisan battle had been raging throughout September. On the1st October the federal government ran out of money and, without authorisation of a new budget from Congress, was forced to “shutdown”.
In simple terms, the federal government is running on air until Congress gets its act together. Most federal offices have closed, and employees are at home, hoping Congress will back-pay them once everything is up and running again.
Some essential services are still running – air traffic control, for example – but in the District of Columbia, home to the nation’s capital, all of their money comes direct from the federal government. This means the city government has shut down along with its federal parent and for residents, that means no garbage collections (though, fortunately, it also means no parking wardens).
The US military are expected to keep working, being paid with IOUs.
The House and Senate have been split since 2011. What makes this budget different from its predecessors is the President’s flagship healthcare reform – so-called “Obamacare” – which came into force the day the government shut down. In exchange for allowing the government to borrow more money to continue its operations, House Republicans wished to delay Obamacare. Senate Democrats disagreed, and continually rejected the House-approved budget.
Barack Obama weighed-in, accusing Republicans of holding the nation to ransom. Republicans in turn point to the dismal public support of Obamacare, and, after all, they were elected on their policies as legitimately as their Senate counterparts.
For now the US finds itself in limbo, and some of the only federal employees whose pay cheques won’t bounce this month, are those that deserve it the least – the politicians. Everyone has made their point; all that is being achieved now is a record low level of public satisfaction with Congress.
There is, at least, one piece of good news: the Ku Klux Klan have been forced to cancel an upcoming rally at Gettysburg after the federally-funded National Park Service closed its gates nationwide.