The failure of the U.S. Congress to pass a budget for the 2014 fiscal year resulted in the first government shutdown since 1995. The shutdown, which began Oct. 1, resulted in hundreds of thousands of furloughed (temporarily laid off) federal government employees and suspension of many government functions.
“This has been simmering along for quite a while,” Joel Johnson, associate professor of government said. According to Johnson, the shutdown was caused by “increased polarization and a lot of unresolved issues where both sides think that the other side is riding roughshod.”
For Augustana students, the effects are mostly based in what is happening elsewhere. Federal financial aid assistance, such as Pell Grants and various student loan programs are largely unaffected. However, much of the staff overseeing questions about these services have been furloughed.
Johnson said he did not see much effect on students at Augustana.
“If this were to continue for a long time then sure, you’d notice,” he said. “I know of some students who have parents affected because they are in one way or another employed by the federal government”
One such student is junior Bryce Christopherson, president of Augustana Democrats. His father, a government contractor, has been furloughed.
“The implications of the current suspension are real and present for my family and many others, as well as the nation at large,” Christopherson said. “If a resolution is not soon reached, the effects of default will be significantly graver.”
Christopherson attributes the shutdown to republican maneuvers.
“At the risk of sounding sensational, I’ll be blunt in saying that this is an unequivocal suspension of democracy and that the future of our country is being held hostage by political fundamentalists,” he said.
According to sophomore and chairwoman of Augustana Republicans Beth Schleusener, the shutdown affects more parents than just those furloughed, because the second largest source of income in South Dakota is tourism.
“It’s frustrating that the leaders won’t get along,” Schleusener said.
Another area students may be concerned about is federal funding of research programs. But according to associate professor of chemistry Barrett Eichler, Augustana hasn’t felt the shutdown yet. If the shutdown continued for several months, there may be cause for concern. For state universities such as the University of South Dakota, the shutdown may be felt sooner, Eichler said, but that is also not likely to happen soon.
The polarization leading up to the shutdown, Johnson said, can be traced back to the election of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party winning both houses of Congress.
“Having control of all three of those really allowed them to do things they wouldn’t have normally been able to do, including [passing] the Affordable Care Act.”
House efforts to couple passage of a budget with alteration or removal of the Affordable Care Act created the rift on which Democrats and Republicans split.
“Congress is doing a poor job representing the people,” Schleusener said, “and the people will reflect that in coming elections.”
However, Johnson is confident the problems in Congress will be resolved.
“There’s room for compromise, especially since the Republicans seem to have broadened out their focus from just the Affordable Care Act,” Johnson said. “Republicans will be able to say, ‘Look we got some concessions here in exchange for extending the debt ceiling and passing another continuing resolution.’”
Johnson added that the Affordable Care Act will most likely remain intact.
“I don’t see that going away,” he said.
For most Augustana students, it may just be a waiting game for Congress to get working again.