How to Explain the Government Shutdown to Kids

BY  |  Wednesday, Oct 02, 2013 2:00pm  |  COMMENTS (24)

government shutdown

Photo: Flickr user Kaz Vorpal via Creative Commons

With many adults not truly understanding the government shutdown (and the Affordable Care Act), it is difficult to explain it to our children. Our friends over at  Here There Everywhere: News for Kids have a really great explanation for kids:

You may be hearing a lot of talk about the government partially shutting down.

It’s true.

What does that actually mean? How did it happen? And will you feel it?

It’s pretty complicated (understatement), but here’s the shutdown in a nutshell:

The federal government in Washington makes decisions on how to spend the country’s money. A lot of that money is actually from taxes your parents pay. There’s supposed to be a budget each year that decides how that money is spent.

In general, Democrats and Republicans have very different ideas on how to best use that money. They actually have different ideas on the role the federal government should have in people’s lives. Democrats generally believe in a bigger role than Republicans. Those differences come into play when they’re trying to figure out how to budget the nation’s money.

In order to pass the budget, Congress — the Senate and the House of Representatives — need to agree, or at least come to a compromise. Currently, the Senate is controlled by Democrats and the House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans. And they’ve found it maddeningly difficult to work together.

The government shutdown happened largely because of a huge sticking point over a healthcare program called Obamacare (it’s technical name is the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act). It passed into law a few years ago, but it went into effect Tuesday, the same day as the deadline to pass a budget.

House of Representative Republicans don’t want to fund this big new national and mandatory health care program. They’re the keepers of the government checkbook and budget legislation originates with them. In the budget they proposed they said they won’t write checks to fund Obamacare. The Senate responded to the House of Representatives saying they won’t sign the House of Representatives’ budget because it doesn’t fund Obamacare. Total impasse.

This went back and forth … until their deadline to figure this out by Monday at midnight came and went. And now both sides blame each other.

The consequence of missing the deadline is that the government partially shuts down until Congress figures it out. Keep in mind, you have your state and local government as well and they’re not part of this.

Members of Congress continue to get paid but the people most hurt by the shutdown are every day Americans — it’s their tax money AND they elected Congress to figure these things out for them in the first place. Regular citizens will also feel the impact of the government shutdown most.

Continue reading over at Here There Everywhere: News for Kids


  1. POSTED BY Kristin  |  October 02, 2013 @ 2:55 pm

    I sent the link to Rep. Frelinghuysen’s office. I thought it might be useful.

    If anyone else wants to contact him (he represents most of 07043) to ask him to join three other NJ Republican Congressman in stopping the foolishness, here’s the info:

  2. POSTED BY idratherbeat63  |  October 02, 2013 @ 4:40 pm

    Inexplicable. Start with something easy like the Big Bang Theory.

  3. POSTED BY agideon  |  October 02, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

    Not that I’m defending Rep. Frelinghuysen in this (or anything else!), but I am curious/puzzled about something. As I understand it, the House Speaker is refusing to put a clean bill – funding with no unrelated preconditions – to a vote. More, from what I’ve read, were he to do so that bill would pass and then move on to the Senate (where it would also pass).

    If my understanding is complete/correct, then what can one representative that’s out of the leadership Troika do?

    As for explaining this to kids: just play for them the part of the Republican Primary Debate where people shouted out “let him die.” Explain that these people want to deny life-saving health care to others so as to preserve the freedom of people to choose whether or not to buy health insurance.

  4. POSTED BY agideon  |  October 02, 2013 @ 5:10 pm


    I have to admit that I feel a bit badly complaining to Frelinghuysen. He could be the nicest person, handing out money on the street, and I couldn’t vote for him because of what his party is trying to do – is apparently succeeding at least to some extent to do – to my country.


  5. POSTED BY flipside  |  October 02, 2013 @ 5:40 pm

    Another way to explain it is one party wants to take mommy and daddy’s money and give nice things and services to people that can’t afford it…it is nice to share. The problem is mommy and daddy’s money isn’t enough so the government borrows trillions of dollars (16 and counting) to give people things, pay for wars, give political donors big government contracts and on and on. One party says what’s the big deal the other party says this is insane. Oh those trillions of dollars that we are printing. You my child will be paying them back…good luck…and don’t forget to put roses on my grave. (Just heard Dead Flowers so I had to slip that in)

  6. POSTED BY jerseygurl  |  October 02, 2013 @ 8:13 pm

    Oh, I sent him an email. The result of gerrymandering is that we’re stuck with him to represent us. If you can’t get the votes, change the playing field. Reprehensible. All of them.

  7. POSTED BY Carlos Danger  |  October 02, 2013 @ 9:01 pm

    Hey baby, you look so fine tonight…. Wait a minute, am I on the right blog?

  8. POSTED BY agideon  |  October 02, 2013 @ 9:35 pm

    “nice things and services to people that can’t afford it”

    Like health care.

    “government borrows trillions of dollars (16 and counting) to give people things, pay for wars, give political donors big government contracts and on and on”

    I wonder on which of these our kids would suggest spending less. Perhaps we should have Congress asking questions of our children.


  9. POSTED BY agideon  |  October 02, 2013 @ 9:38 pm

    “The result of gerrymandering is that we’re stuck with him to represent us.”

    But (1) the result of gerrymandering is that he has no need to listen to me. More, (2) I cannot envision him doing anything – short of switching parties, I suppose – that would have me vote for him. As I wrote, it has *nothing* to do with him and everything to do with the party to which his mere presence in Congress grants authority.

    Perhaps I simply don’t understand the political process.


  10. POSTED BY agideon  |  October 02, 2013 @ 9:56 pm

    “You my child will be paying them back”

    This may not be true as you mean it. We outgrow debt to be successful. “Paying it back” actually risks trashing the economy.

    Besides, anyone familiar with the balance sheet of a growing business knows that investment is a tool for growth, and that investment is often funded by debt. The idea is to – just as I wrote above – outgrow the debt so that, in the end, there’s a net gain. But one doesn’t need to stop investing, and debt never needs to reach zero.


  11. POSTED BY idratherbeat63  |  October 03, 2013 @ 7:10 am

    agideon, perhaps it is sufficient if you say only to your children, as you stated, “I simply don’t understand the political process.”

    Work with them rather on their grade school math, if you must. But please do not teach them that it is ok to owe someone else something and not repay it. It will get them into serious trouble in the future, just as it is doing for our country and our town.

    The fact is we do not outgrow our debt. Quite the opposite, our debt has outgrown us. This is the reason for the crisis. not the ACA and not one or another political party or news source. Our insistence to live beyond our means causes suffering to others, now and in the future.

    But your suggestion that the government might want to ask the children, the ones who will pay for our fun and games (or more likely be the victims of them), what they think is perhaps not so bad. I wonder how our children would react if they were told that we could save trillions of dollars simply by stopping the government from spying on them and you and not purchasing hardware whose only use is to maim and kill. The children might decide differently than you and me.

    flipside, would you post a YouTube of you telling your child “You, my child, will be paying back the 16 trillion dollar debt?” I’d love to see your child’s expression upon hearing that. Would your child respond something like, “Sure Daddy, should I go out for the roses now?”

  12. POSTED BY flipside  |  October 03, 2013 @ 7:12 am

    Problem is we are not investing in growth. No sane business or family would carry the debt our government is carrying. They couldn’t…No one would lend them money. As a matter of fact no one is lending us money…the Fed is buying up nearly all are debt. We should just inflate our way out of it. Big downside risk. So, party on until the keg runs dry. Why even consider the downside? On a local level it has been working for Montclair, why worry? Interest rates will be zero forever…until they are not. If interest rates go up 100 bp’s what happens? 200?

  13. POSTED BY agideon  |  October 03, 2013 @ 7:19 am

    “The fact is we do not outgrow our debt.”

    Historically, outgrowing our debt is how this nation has succeeded. Paying it off correlates with economic failure. See the cited URLs.

    That’s not to say that debt-holders don’t get paid back. But these are two almost completely independent topics.


  14. POSTED BY idratherbeat63  |  October 03, 2013 @ 7:23 am

    agideon, “these are two completely independent topics.” Perhaps skip the grade school math sessions as well.

  15. POSTED BY agideon  |  October 03, 2013 @ 8:34 am

    “Perhaps skip the grade school math sessions as well.”

    It’s cute how you try to issue personal insults while completely ignoring the actual topic of conversation.


  16. POSTED BY idratherbeat63  |  October 03, 2013 @ 9:25 am

    agideon, apologies. I should have said it more simply: If you owe someone money you repay that person. It is a relationship of dependency, not two separate “almost completely independent topics.”

    The problem is too many parents did teach this irresponsibility to their children.

    I agree: it is not entirely your fault. You have your citations, but really just do the math.

    When you cite people from Washington that write pure political nonsense, then there is a concern: “We should engage in a responsible plan to increase the national debt each year. Only by issuing debt to lubricate the financial system, and to support the economy’s healthy growth, can we guarantee a prosperous future for current and future citizens of the United States.” Such apologists for this national crisis will not assist in getting the government running again and preventing future shutdowns, even meltdowns.

    I do prefer Andrew Jackson’s views on debt, even the understanding that it is a moral issue (because it can lead to extreme suffering, by those who engage the debt and those who are innocent bystanders). I do agree that there are times in the lives of individuals, businesses and even governments when a limited and controllable amount of debt is acceptable. But that is not the case in Washington and not the case in Montclair.

    You might also consider that war and debt go hand-in-hand. There is an obvious way to address the nation’s debt problem, but really there is too much hubris among the good citizens for that to happen.

    Alongside the politicians themselves, the military and the CIA are not affected by the government shut down. (And please don’t explain the why of this to me.)

    Andrew, you are a good guy. I can admire you. But really, do the simple math before getting confused with the big theories.

  17. POSTED BY mike 91  |  October 03, 2013 @ 9:28 am

    The fact is we do not outgrow our debt.

    This “fact” would be contradicted by any economist with a degree. There is a postive effect of inflation that is involved, which I’m sure you’re also unaware of.

    Also, what crisis? You tend to just type the next thought that comes into your mind I think.

    As for the government shutdown, its worth revisiting what happened after the latest gun law failure. What did the Democrats do? Close down government?

  18. POSTED BY idratherbeat63  |  October 03, 2013 @ 9:53 am

    mike 91, the Fox News Headline: “As Shutdown Crisis Unfolds”

    And this from that far-left leaning liberal newspaper, “The Wall Street Journal”: “Leaders of the U.S. intelligence community said the government shutdown creates opportunities for U.S. enemies and is compromising American national security.” Indeed, the Director of National Intelligence stated: “The damage will be insidious.”

    I admit most people (those who are not missing a paycheck this week) really do not see any “crisis” and want to party hardy believing in some mysterious positive effect of inflation.

    If our debt hadn’t outgrown our ability to pay, there would be no government shutdown, even for 10 minutes.

    But let’s rather talk about gun control and make this into a partisan issue.

  19. POSTED BY mike 91  |  October 03, 2013 @ 10:21 am

    I admit most people (those who are not missing a paycheck this week) really do not see any “crisis” and want to party hardy believing in some mysterious positive effect of inflation.

    Please don’t pretend to know anything about the national debt when you tag the effects of inflation as “mysterious.” In fact they are well known, and available to anyone who knows how to spell Google. Your conflating of Montclair’s debt with the federal debt was already a clue (you realize the Federal government is licensed to print money, yes?), but now the cat is already out of the bag.

    And as for the current crisis, you are wrong there too. The current budget numbers suggested by republicans and democrats are close enough not to matter. This is an entirely manufactured crisis by the far right, who are scared to death that the ACA will be popular.

    My point about gun control was that in a similar position (actually, the poll numbers were even beter), the Democrats accepted the legislative process as opposed to a whiny fit.

  20. POSTED BY idratherbeat63  |  October 03, 2013 @ 11:17 am

    mike 91, apologies for your point on gun control. I hadn’t understood it.

    I can’t do the political, partisan stuff. It’s there, I know, but it is just not a good place for me to be.

    Thanks for letting the cat out of the bag. I would most surely want to believe that you and agideon are right about all this tough economic stuff. My math skills are surely too basic.

  21. POSTED BY flipside  |  October 03, 2013 @ 3:46 pm

    Debt is not a bad thing…too much of it is. When debt is used for growth it has a positive affect. When debt is used to increase a standard of living and to pay interest on previous debt it is a bad thing. When interest rates rise we are cooked and inflation can be very painful. We are hoping things go sideways until the problem goes away. That may happen and let’s hope it does…if it doesn’t? Things end very badly and Plato will be right yet again.

  22. POSTED BY idratherbeat63  |  October 03, 2013 @ 5:14 pm

    flipside, Thanks. That is exactly what I said to my better half last week when the Visa bill arrived: “I am hoping things go sideways until the problem goes away.” As you might imagine, that produced a rather tense moment. 🙂

  23. POSTED BY walleroo  |  October 03, 2013 @ 5:56 pm

    OMG what a GREAT idea for a Bnet item.

  24. POSTED BY walleroo  |  October 04, 2013 @ 12:43 am

    Hey kid,

    It’s like two kids, Tom and Dick, who both want a turn at the video game console, but they can’t decide who gets to play first, so they both agree to ask Uncle Hamish. He flips a coin, comes up heads, Tom wins. But just as Tom starts to play, Dick pisses all over the game, shorting the console, tripping the fuses, blowing the transformer down the road, which starts a chain reaction up the crappy electrical grid that eventually shuts down the entire east coast for a week.

    Got it? Now go to bed.

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