The US government is shut down, due to disagreements between President and Congress on border security funding.

Both sides are in an apparent stalemate.

So my question is simply, what happens if neither side backs down? Does the shut-down just go on indefinitely? How does this end?

  • Lots of comments deleted. Comments are for providing constructive criticism to the question itself, not to discuss the subject matter of the question.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 18:49
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    I removed the part of the question which speculates about why there is a deadlock regarding the current budget, because it isn't relevant to the question and just leads to opinionated discussions in the comments about whether or not it's correct.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 18:51
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    Only non-essential services are shut down atm. None of the answers seem to talk about what happens once current appropriations for essential services run out. Can this happen (say, at the end of the 18/19 FY)? And if so, would it affect given answers?
    – mcalex
    Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 7:08
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    @mcalex That sounds like a decent separate question. You might consider posting it as such.
    – user
    Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 12:09
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    @aCVn I posted mcalex their comment as a new question: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/37743/…
    – Nzall
    Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 15:03

5 Answers 5


If necessary, Congress can pass a spending bill without the president's support.

Currently Trump claims he will veto any bill which doesn't include funding for the wall. However if two-thirds of each chamber of Congress agree, they can override a presidential veto and end the shutdown.

The current Senate has already passed a spending bill without funding for Trump's wall once with a veto-proof majority of 100-0. Instead of voting on that bill though, the Republican-lead House of Representatives voted on a different bill with wall funding that was sure to fail in the Senate.

The Senate won't change much in the next Congress, but the House of Representatives will have new leadership and can try to pass a similar bill to what has previously passed the Senate. If the Senate votes similarly and the House gets enough votes they can end the shutdown with or without Trump.

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    Since I googled it, the next congress starts today, January 3rd. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/116th_United_States_Congress
    – JollyJoker
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 8:03
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    Just for the sake of precision, even in the new Congress the Democrats don't hold a two-third majority in the House, so they will need an important support from Republicans in order to override a Presidentail veto. So the OP's question of what happens in the stalemate perdures is very up to the point.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 14:24
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    The Senate passed the bill with a veto-free majority, but that was before Trump expressed his disapproval of the bill. Mitch McConnell has now said that Senate Republicans will not support a bill that the president doesn't support. So even though the constitution of the Senate hasn't changed that much, it's not a sure-thing that the same bill it passed before would pass now (my understanding is that since it's a new session of Congress, the Senate would have to pass the bill again). And certainly not with a veto-proof majority.
    – Daniel
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 14:54
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    Just to be clear overriding a veto is a separate act to passing the bill, so if a bill was passed then vetoed there would have to be another to override this i.e. the fact it passed 100-0 in the Senate does not automatically make it veto proof.
    – deep64blue
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 15:47
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    -1 as this answer assumes that the senate will break with the president and also implies that voting to pass a bill that the group passing knows will fail in another chamber is indicative of how they will vote when something real is on the line. This answer provides a hypothetical way out of the current situation, but does not address the question of what happens if an agreement is never reached,
    – Gramatik
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 21:18

The government shutdown is caused by a lapse in funding for government operations and agencies.

The Antideficiency Act mandates that the government cannot incur "obligations or the making of expenditures (outlays) in excess of amounts available in appropriations or funds". As explained by The Hill, this act "provides the framework for which government functions temporarily cease and how employees are impacted".

Thus, the only way to end a government shutdown is to pass appropriations legislation. This can be in the form of a regular appropriations bill (a yearly budget) or a continuing resolution (CR; a short-term funding bill). Without any appropriations legislation passed, the shutdown will continue indefinitely.

Currently, both parties are looking to pass a continuing resolution. However, since there was no agreement on the amount of funding to provide for border security, the Senate passed a CR which does not include funding for border security while the House passed a CR which includes $5.7 billion for border security. Since there was no agreement between the Senate and the House, the government shutdown continues to date.

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    The question wasn't about the reason for the shutdown, it was how it could be resolved.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 19:55
  • @Barmar - actually the question was not "how it could be resolved" -
    – BobE
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 21:47
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    "How does this end?"
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 21:49
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    And the correct answer is "passing appropriations legislation". Asking how will the House and Senate do that in today's climate is asking for fortune-telling.
    – AShelly
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 19:34
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    It could also end with the dissolution of the union, although this is not probable. Commented Jan 5, 2019 at 14:53

If Congress - House and Senate - cannot agree to a bill with 2/3 majority, two years go by, and there will be new elections for all House seats (and about a third of the Senate). Some voters will be annoyed with the shutdown, and vote for someone who is more interested in ending it.
If that is not sufficient, two more years will go by, and more people will be annoyed. And so forth, until enough representants are elected that can agree on ending it.
There is no limit to the time, though; theoretically, this could go on for centuries.

  • 4
    Who will pay for elections to be held? Don't any of those rely on federal money?
    – JJJ
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 23:05
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    @JJJ The actual voting and tallying of votes are funded at the state or county level. There are several Federal agencies, like the FEC, which manages certain parts of the campaign process.
    – user71659
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 0:11
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    Note that every other one of those two year cycles and specifically the next one, a presidential election is also held. Since the holder of that office is a primary party of the current dispute (and indeed has been literally cited as such by the leader of his own party in a senate which previously reached agreement), it's a bit relevant. Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 16:35
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    Alternately, people might like not having certain agencies funded, so will vote for people who will try to keep the partial shutdown going :)
    – user21993
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 19:14
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    This answer does seem the best though. It is the only one which states that the budget shutdown can actually occur indefinitely. To add to that, nonessential systems were shut down many of which did not exist before the 1900's. I'm sure some properly cited addition regarding that would show even more that the US can for sure exist without those entities, as it already has at one point.
    – user64742
    Commented Jan 5, 2019 at 7:12

Can it last forever?

The shutdown continues until a bill passes both houses and is either enactes by the president or passed through the veto override procedure. Theoretically, the stalemate could never be resolved, and the government might fail or something, or maybe 2/3 of the state legislatures call for a constitutional convention in order to try to fix the problems. None of that seems terribly likely given the political incentives, but in the American system, there is no higher political power than Congress and the president under the Constitution.

Practically speaking, though...

At some point, one side or the other will give in. This is a game of chicken, just in the halls of Congress instead of the school playground. The entire House will be elected again in two years, so the probability of a shutdown lasting beyond that is essentially 0. Each party knows this, and so they each want to end the shutdown before it becomes politically precarious.

The key problems right now are that the House and Senate are run by opposing parties and that the Senate must invoke cloture on any funding bill, i.e. the Senate must have at least 60 votes to end debate.


If I were to make a guess, I'd say that invoking cloture on a bill funding a wall at $5B is the biggest hurdle, since it would involve seven Senate Democrats defecting. Maybe Mitch McConnell could convince a few of the more centrist or conservative Democrats like Jon Tester (D-MT) or Democrats from "red" states like freshman Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to support a bill with wall funding. Absent a deal between Trump and Schumer (D-NY), the Senate is going to be a hard sell.

I think the House may actually be a bit easier, since the Republicans would need only to make a deal with the House leadership to bring a wall-funding bill to the floor and then get at least 18 Democrats to support it.

In percentage terms, only 8% of House Democrats would need to defect to pass the wall funding as opposed to 14% of Senate Democrats.

  • 5
    I'm not so sure. The Democrats just got elected to Congress generally to fight Trump, and specifically to stop things like his border wall plan. Expecting them to cave on the exact issue they ran (and got elected) on is a pipe dream. Similarly, this seems like the exact kind of media-grabbing political circus this POTUS loves. I don't think he cares one bit about the agencies being shut down, and I don't think he either wants to or can afford to back down one iota.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 14:38
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    It boils down to the principle of least interest, I think (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_least_interest). Each party has various agencies or government spending they want defunded (some Dems want to defund ICE, many in the GOP would like to defund the IRS, Planned Parenthood, etc.). I think the bigger asymmetry is that Democrats count government employees as a major interest group/faction within the party. Beyond the DoD, the Republicans are fairly willing to sit this one out.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 15:32
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    If your analysis of the situation is that the Democrats love government, and thus will step in to save it anytime someone threatens it, well...I think you need to quit reading whatever websites gave you that idea. These are all human beings who were voted in with majorities in their districts, same as the Republicans. If they don't do what they got elected to do, they will get replaced with someone who will, same as Republicans. So no, they politically cannot vote directly against what they ran on (same as Republicans). There is no path out of this that involves Dems voting for a wall.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 15:55
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    "These are all human beings who were voted in with majorities in their districts, same as the Republicans. If they don't do what they got elected to do, they will get replaced with someone who will, same as Republicans." Are we generalizing here or are we allowing for individual variation? And where is the evidence that opposing the wall is such a high priority for all 235 Democrats? Just judging by my own state, we had three seats flip from the GOP to the Dems in November. None of those three new members of Congress campaigned on immigration.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 16:40
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    I just want to remind all of you that the question is asking what will happen if a decision is never reached, not how a decision will be reached. Short of mind reading and fortune telling there is no way to know what will happen. For all we know the president himself will change his mind and back down on the wall idea altogether and then the deadlock is settled immediately. We really won't know and this is likely not the place to discuss it.
    – user64742
    Commented Jan 5, 2019 at 7:17

I would be surprised if it could go on for more than another two years. The classification of essential vs. nonessential is rather arbitrary. I'm pretty sure that the "nonessential" personnel who have to work without getting paid (because they are, in fact, necessary) are going to win their lawsuit that they can't be required to work without getting paid. (For the record, their paychecks are "deferred". Their living expenses are not.) I note that all the reference attorneys in the federal judicial system are essential and are being paid, so the essential processes of Americans suing each other can go on unchecked.

Nonetheless as people discover which "nonessential services" are in fact essential for their lives (income tax refunds, perhaps?), they will grow more and more disenchanted with the shutdown. Most services (all perhaps?) are there because someone wanted them. Enough to want them to continue? Certainly in the aggregate, and they may be willing to allow the whole mess to continue and have Congress decide which programs to kill by a less contentious method. (And see how well that has worked. Farm subsidies are mostly gone -- except to the ginormous agribusinesses. [Well, the subsidy line item in the federal budget is just as big, but small farmers complain that they aren't getting subsidies any more. Either they're lying, all of them, or the payments are all going to the big corporations.])

So here's my prediction. A compromise will be reached. A wall will not be built. Some other bone will be sent Trump's way so that he can claim "victory". Fox News will go on and on about how he got the best deal possible in the face of Democratic intransigence, because of what a great negotiator he is. All the work will be done in the House and Senate, but on Fox News Trump will get the credit and Pelosi the blame, and in the NY Times and the Washington Post the reverse. CNN will be too scared to take a stand, except for Rachel Maddow. This post will be banned for being too overtly excessively political.

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