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Your Fave ‘SNL’ Characters Explain the Looming Government Shutdown

It's looking pretty probable that the United States government will shut down on Tuesday.

When we say shut down, we mean shut down.

But we know how much you love complex government stories that force you to think back to middle school civics.

So how about we explain this through "Saturday Night Live"? After all, "SNL" just started its new season, and let's face it, understanding the shutdown will be pretty painless this way.

The government is about to shut down. Discuss.

What's this all about?

Well, in a nutshell, the government is in debt because it spends more money than it has. The amount of money it can borrow is called the debt ceiling. It's set by Congress. And we've hit it.

The president wants Congress to vote to raise it. Republican leaders will raise it, but less than the president wants, and only if spending is significantly cut.

Oh, and there's something else: Republicans have seized on this crisis as an opportunity to block something they deeply hate: the health care reform law passed in Obama's first term, known as Obamacare.

If they can't come to an agreement, the government can't borrow any more money. Meaning its budget will run out. Meaning it can no longer operate. Meaning it has to shut down.

It's like a really intense chess match.

With Americans left to cheer their side on.

And everyone's blaming each other.

How did this start?

The Republicans are not fans of the Affordable Care Act, a k a Obamacare. They think it's too expensive and too heavy-handed.

To the president and the Democrats, they're all:

So they're trying to defund Obamacare - take funding away from it, which would prevent much of it from going into effect - essentially by taking the budget of the whole U.S. government hostage.

Debbie Downer

It's a Debbie Downer moment.

Congress currently has less than 24 hours (deadline: October 1) to agree on a budget for the upcoming fiscal year or the government will shut down. Yes, we said LESS THAN 24 hours. Cue panic.

What's happened so far:

  • Last week, the House (run by the Republicans) passed a bill that would keep the government running, but would defund Obamacare. The Senate (run by the Democrats) blocked that measure, sending Congress back to the drawing board.
  • On Saturday night, the House passed a bill that would delay Obamacare by a year.
  • The Democrat-controlled Senate reconvenes on Monday afternoon, but it's likely that they'll shoot down the House's proposal. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) already said that the Senate "will reject any Republican attempt to force changes to the Affordable Care Act through a mandatory government funding bill or the debt ceiling.")

The Democrats right now to the Republicans:

P.S. There were rumors that congressmembers were boozin' this weekend while they worked.

How is the president dealing with this?

He is not happy.

On Twitter, it's #EnoughAlready vs. #SenateMustAct.

Some say this is "the fight of Obama's life" and a pivotal moment in his presidency.

What parts of Obamacare are the Republicans trying to dismantle?

Pretty much all of it.

First, they tried to defund it. Now, they're trying to at least delay the initial rollout which was set for ... drum roll ... October 1.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz conducted a 21-hour long filibuster-like speech on the Senate floor in protest of Obamacare last week.

It stepped up the battle between the Democrats and Republicans, and even within his own party - some Republicans thought it was an ineffective, attention-seeking stunt.

The House also added a so-called "conscience clause." It limits Obamacare's provisions on contraceptives - so employers that are morally opposed to covering employees' birth control can basically opt out of covering them.

It would also let insurers opt out of covering abortion.

GIF presented without comment.

A few clauses of the ACA would remain intact:

1. People with pre-existing conditions can't be denied healthcare coverage because of their illness, as of January 1, 2014.

2. Young people are covered under their parents' insurance until the age of 26.

Talkin' about, stayin' on our parents' insurance....

Also under fire by Republicans - and some Democrats - is the "medical device tax," which is a tax on the healthcare industry. They argue that the tax will contribute to job losses.

How will a shutdown affect me and the government?

The shutdown, in GIF form.

Guys, it's not good.

All non-essential government workers will be furloughed - which means being forced to take days off, probably without pay.

The economy could slow down because the government's not spending any money, especially in the D.C. area.

All national parks, zoos, museums, and other national service sites will close. That trip to Yosemite? Cancel it.

According to Brian Fellows, "That's crazy!"

Social Security funding is mandatory, so no one should worry about those checks not being delivered. (Speaking of which, the U.S. Postal Service will keep running, too.)

Oh, and if you live in D.C., trash collection will be halted.

The House did pass a bill on Saturday that would pay the troops during a potential shutdown, but that proposal's fate is TBD.

Has the government ever shut down before?

Yes, 17 times.

Yes, Amy, REALLY.

The first was in 1976, after President Gerald Ford vetoed a funding bill.

The most recent shutdown began in December 1995 and ended in early January 1996, lasting 21 days. It was the longest government shutdown in American history.

The cause? A squabble over tax cuts between Republican Newt Gingrich (then a senator and the House Speaker) and President Bill Clinton. They eventually compromised so everyone was all:


Say the government does shut down... then what happens in Congress?

Congress will have to negotiate.

And they'll have to do better than this:

Current congressional negotiation tactic.

Maybe they'll even learn to compromise?

Again, Chris Farley demonstrates the joy of compromise.

If they do, that will be kind of awesome.

What about that debt ceiling stuff?

That's the next debate on the table - the debt ceiling needs to be raised sometime this fall.

If we default on our loans, countries that we borrow from, like China, would not be pleased.

Congress has never failed to raise the debt ceiling because doing so would likely be catastrophic to our economy.

Can we please stop being so dysfunctional?

Right now, House members and Senators alike make about as much sense as Stefon.

And we'd like to see some action - there's gotta be someone in Congress who can do something!


That's right.

Maybe the government just needs more cowbell.


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Your Fave ‘SNL’ Characters Explain the Looming Government Shutdown

Lily Altavena

Lily is currently a TV news producer in Dallas, Texas. Previously, she was a production assistant at MSNBC. She is also a recent NYU grad. She interned for Ann Curry’s team at NBC News, The New York Times, The Village Voice, and the education nonprofit She’s the First. Her interests range from politics to education to comedy. She is not actually a dinosaur. Follow: @lilyalta.

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