WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 19: President Donald Trump talks about the Veterans Choice Program Extension and Improvement Act before signing it in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday, April 19, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Diana Pearl
April 24, 2017 03:38 PM

From the early days of his campaign, President Donald Trump promised Americans a “big, beautiful wall” built along the border of Mexico — and that Mexico will pay for it. Now, the first half of that pledge is at a standoff with the second half while the federal government teeters on the brink of shutdown.

Trump’s insistence that American taxpayers foot the bill for getting the wall started is one of the thorny issues—along with Obamacare subsidies and expanded military spending—that Congress is wrestling with as lawmakers in Washington face a deadline for passing this year’s budget. Inaction would lead to a shutdown of the federal government.

But how likely is a shutdown — and what would it mean to everyday life?

Why is the government (potentially) shutting down?

In the end, it all really comes down to funding the proposed wall on the Mexican border. Every year, Congress must outline and vote on a federal budget. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told The Hill that budget negotiations between Republicans and Democrats were actually going pretty well, until the White House got involved and called for funding for the wall.

“I don’t think [a government shutdown] is inevitable at all,” Schumer, a New York Democrat said. “Parties were negotiating quite well, until Donald Trump and the White House threw a monkey wrench into this, with the wall. It’s my view that if the president stepped out of it, we could get a budget done by Friday.”

And White House officials seem to agree — at least on the prospect of avoiding a shutdown. On Sunday, White House officials said they didn’t want the government to shut down over the wall negotiations, and that “there’s no interest in a shutdown” and they’ll “do what it takes” to avoid one, according to CNN.

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, offered Democrats a compromise, of sorts, in exchange for their agreement to fund at least initial construction of the wall: A dollar towards Obamacare subsidies for low-income Americans for every dollar that’s dedicated to building the wall.

Democrats were not much moved.

“The US government is supposed to take care of its citizens and, according to the President, Mexico is supposed to pay for the wall,” Matt House, a spokesperson for Schumer, said, according to CNN. “If the administration would drop their eleventh-hour demand for a wall that Democrats, and a good number of Republicans oppose, congressional leaders could quickly reach a deal.”

There is bipartisan opposition to shutting down the government over the wall, according to the New York Times, which could get in Trump’s way as his first 100 days in office come to an end — the same day as the budget deadline.

Wait, isn’t Mexico paying for the wall?

Trump may have campaigned on the promise of Mexico paying for the wall, but that’s definitely not happening any time soon. Even Trump all but admitted this in a series of tweets this weekend.

“Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early,” Trump tweeted about the wall’s funding. “Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall.”

Trump contends that the plan is to have Mexico pay for the wall at a later date, so construction can begin as soon as possible. However, as Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto has repeatedly said his country will “of course” not pay for the wall (and their ex-president, Vincente Fox, said the same in more colorful language), there’s a sizable chance that if Congress decides to fund the wall, reimbursement from Mexico will never come.

How long will a shutdown last?

It’s hard to say, but likely not long. Shutdowns, of course, are not a good thing: They interrupt the American democracy and no party wants to take responsibility (or be blamed by the American people.) The last shutdown, in 2013, lasted for 16 days. Before that, there hadn’t been one for nearly 20 years — since that which started at the end of 1995, and lasted for 21 days, until January 1996. The length of that particular shutdown, however, could be explained by timing (it fell over the holidays.)

So if it does happen this time, less than a month would be a safe bet based on precedent.

How will a shutdown affect my life?

Federal employees will feel the most immediate impact, barred from work—and the pay that comes with their hours at the office.

“Critical” workers would be excluded so that Post Offices will still be open, USDA food inspections will still be done and air-traffic controllers will still be in their towers making sure all our planes land safely, according to CNN. Services for veterans also shouldn’t be affected, as their budget is created a year in advance. In the courts, all employees will keep working for 10 business days after the start of the shutdown, with “non-essential” employees being barred from work after that. Cases, however, will still be heard.

And if you had a trip planned to a national park, you’re out of luck: Those will all be closed throughout the duration of the shutdown. You also can’t get loans from the government during a shutdown, nor a new gun permit.

The shutdown will have the most profound — and smelly — effect on the lives of those who live in the nation’s capital. Because Congress approves Washington, D.C.’s budget, trash collection will cease in the city until end the of the shutdown. And for a city that’s a part-time home to Congress and produces 500 tons of trash, according to the Washington Post, that’s even more incentive for any shutdown to come to a quick wrap-up.

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