Never before in history did the Maryland General Assembly convene, as it did today, during a federal shutdown, although the longest shutdown on record—the second one that began in 1995, which lasted from December 16, 1995 through January 6, 1996 (21 days total)—ended just in the nick of time.
The two shutdowns of 1995 and 1995–96 were brought about by conflicts between President Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress over funding for Medicare, education, the environment, and public health in the 1996 federal budget. About 800,000 federal workers were furloughed during the first shutdown, and about 284,000 were furloughed during the second.
If the present shutdown lasts until January 12, it will break the record for the longest federal shutdown in history, although the need for a government shutdown only dates back to the 1980s. The US attorney general issued an opinion during 1980–1981 that said it was illegal for the government to spend money that Congress hadn’t authorized. This was a common practice before that opinion, especially for military contracts, since congressional approval was usually in the works, but since that opinion, both parties have found they can use a shutdown as some sort of bargaining chip.
For the moment, the biggest effect of the shutdown has been on federal employees, who won’t get a paycheck Friday. Those who haven’t built up savings might not be able to pay their bills. It has also resulted in some government functions being suspended, such as the IRS’s taxpayer help line, some processing of federal payments to farmers or for university research, and some inspections and investigations by government agencies, such as NASA, the EPA, and the National Weather Service.
On January 4, many TSA guards at airports across the country started calling in sick rather than working without pay. If the shutdown lasts much longer, this could have an impact on the airline industry. And that could ripple into other industries and affect many people whose lives aren’t as closely touched by the operations of the federal government.
The Maryland General Assembly
By constitutional decree, the Maryland General Assembly meets every year, starting on the second Wednesday in January, for a 90-day legislative session. Primary agenda items this year are the redistricting efforts in the state as well as a closer look at business taxes. There’s also a popular push to increase the minimum wage to $15, but some business leaders point out that Maryland already has one of the highest minimums in the nation at $10.10. Education is always a matter on the minds of many state lawmakers, but since the Kirwan Commission hasn’t concluded its work yet, any major changes to the funding structure for public schools are likely to be put off until at least the 2020 legislative session.