Someday, these budget wars are going to end. On that day, when the world is once again safe for the passage of farm bills and Ted Cruz has finally run out of historical analogies, we’ll remember the Great Budget Negotiation of 2013 as little more than a chapter in a far longer story: that of the sequester.
The word in Washington is that we’re on the brink of a “shutdown,” a dramatic term that suggests the U.S. government will cease operating—as simple as closing your laptop. The reality, of course, is much more complicated. What is a government shutdown, and how on earth could a petty budget disagreement cause it? Here’s an explanation of where shutdowns came from and how they’ve played out in the past—plus what’s likely to happen this time around.