America's conservatives often say they would prefer less government, and for the past few weeks have had a foretaste of what that might look like. Visitors to any of the country’s national parks grumble about overflowing waste bins and shuttered public toilets. Although some agencies such as the Social Security Administration, Postal Service and Veterans Affairs are open for business, about 800,000 workers have been affected. Some have been forced into unpaid leave, others are working without pay (many will receive back-pay when the government reopens, though furloughed workers receive no such guarantee). At the Internal Revenue Service, the department charged with counting—and refunding—Americans’ tax dollars, only one-in-ten workers are showing up.
President Donald Trump refuses to yield in his demand for $5.7bn in funding for a wall along the US-Mexico border, pushing the current government shutdown into its 17th day. This makes the budget impasse the second-longest since 1981, when current rules about worker pay during shutdowns were adopted. In theory, shutdowns end when it becomes clear that one side is receiving most of the blame, creating an incentive to back down. In practice, judgement on whose fault this is will likely be determined by partisan affiliation. Republicans will blame Democrats, and vice versa. If both sides conclude they are winning, neither will blink.
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