The Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Thinkstock)As the midnight deadline for averting a government shutdown approaches tonight, the Republicans and Democrats in Congress are still dueling over budget issues.
"There's only one reason we do not have an agreement as yet, and that issue is spending," House Speaker John Boehner said at a press conference today. "We're close to a resolution on policy issues. But I think the American people deserve to know, when will the White House and when will Senate Democrats get serious about cutting spending?"
But Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters that the impasse is being caused by the Republican push to cut Title X funding for Planned Parenthood. "This all deals with women's health. Everything (else) has been resolved. Everything," Reid said on CNN. "It's an ideological battle. It has nothing to do with fiscal integrity in this country."
On Monday, deputy secretaries and chiefs of staff were sent an email from the Office of Management and Budget, saying that "given the realities of the calendar, good management requires that we continue contingency planning for an orderly shutdown should the negotiations not be completed" by Friday. An aide told CNN that Boehner has asked the House Administration Committee to issue guidance to all congressional members on how the House would operate if the government was forced to shutdown.There have been 16 government shutdowns since 1981, most of them lasting fewer than three days. The longest lasted 21 days and took place during the Clinton administration, when House Speaker Newt Gingrich and President Bill Clinton battled over balancing the federal budget (and the President's relationship with "that woman," Monica Lewinsky, ramped up).
A shutdown that lasts just a few days probably wouldn't hurt the economy, but a longer one could do some damage. So, how would a government shutdown affect you? Here are a few of the ways:
"Nonessential" federal workers would be furloughed. Close to a million people would find their jobs-and their paychecks-on hold starting Saturday, except for those contributing to "vital U.S. services" like national defense, emergency medical care, the FBI, border patrol, and air-traffic control. In the past, Congress has authorized retroactive payments for people whose jobs are furloughed during a government shut down, but there's no guarantee they'd do that again, given the current financial crisis. And then there's the psychological hit: "You've been working your ass off ... and someone comes to tell you that you are non-essential?" Bo Cutter, former director of the National Economic Council and a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, pointed out to CNN. "There is a huge management morale issue when everyone comes back to work."
The President and members of Congress would still receive paychecks as usual. They're considered "essential" workers and their salaries are financed through mandatory appropriations, which aren't affected by a government shutdown. So, as CNN.com put it: The folks responsible for the shutdown won't feel any of the pain they are dishing out to federal workers, or even their own staff members, who won't be paid." (With hours to go until a possible shutdown, House Speaker John Boehner told House members that he would return his own paycheck.)
Military service members would have to work-but would not get paid until the shutdown is over. Uniformed service members and Department of Defense civilian personnel are not subject to furlough and must report to duty as normal. According to a Department of Defense memo, issued yesterday: "All military personnel will continue in a normal duty status regardless of their affiliation with excepted or non-excepted activities." But "military personnel will serve without pay until such time as Congress makes appropriated funds available to compensate them for this period of service." That includes troops in active duty overseas: Operations in Iran, Afghanistan, and Libya and humanitarian efforts in Japan would continue, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn told workers at the Department of Defense yesterday. "I have had many soldiers ask me, 'How will I support my family, sir?' and 'I can't believe that I'm being asked to deploy to a combat zone with no guarantee of getting paid.' I have no good answer to give them," Army Captain Mark Natale, a paratrooper and communications officer with the 8th Military Information Support Battalion at the U.S. Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, told the Air Force Times.
Military retirees would still receive benefits as scheduled. Since military retirees are not paid from annually appropriated funds, a government shut down wouldn't affect them.
Services for military families would be affected. Commissaries would be closed during a government shutdown, making it difficult for families to buy groceries. Child care centers would be open only in a limited capacity, and while in-patient and emergency medical and dental services would continue, elective surgeries and other non-emergency medical procedures would not. If the shutdown continues into June, summer school for children in military families would be cancelled.
You'll still get your mail. And your Social Security check. "We're self-funded," Postal Service spokesman Gerry McKiernan told the Mercury News. "It's a normal day for us." Current Social Security beneficiaries would still get their checks, but new applications would be put on hold. Medicare would also continue to send payments "at least for a short period of time," said a senior administration official.
You can still travel. Air traffic control personnel are considered essential, so they'll still be on the job and planes will still be flying. But if you're waiting for a visa or a new passport, you might have to put your travel plans on hold.
Your tax returns might be delayed. Taxes are due April 18 this year, and if the government owes you a refund, you may have to wait even longer to get it. You still have to file your tax returns on time, though, and while audits will be postponed, if you owe the government money, you'll face interest and penalties if you don't pay up on time.
National parks and museums would close. Visitors spend an average of $32 million at National Parks each day. If there's a government shutdown, those user fees can't be collected-which means the country loses that income. Popular tourist attractions around the country may also close during the shutdown (think Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon National Park, the Smithsonian Institution, and more). That would mean a loss of millions of tourism dollars for states, airlines, hotels, restaurants, and other vendors. In Washington, D.C., tourism accounts for 66,000 full-time jobs and $2.6 billion in wages.
Other government services would be on hold. Applications for U.S. passports and visas would not be processed, and import/export licenses, new Social Security applications, benefits for new military veterans, background checks for gun permits, and work on bankruptcy cases could be temporarily suspended. the National Institute of Health won't be able to staff hotlines to answer questions about diseases or accept new patients into clinical research programs, and EPA investigations and toxic waste cleanup at sites around the country could stop-all of which happened during the last government shutdown, which took place from December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996.
Government aid could stop temporarily. Small-business loans would not be approved, the Federal Housing Administration would stop guaranteeing mortgage loans, contractors would be left waiting for permits, and Perkins loans and federal work-study programs would stall. "Colleges and universities would not be able to draw down and disburse to students any campus-based program awards, such as work-study or the Federal Perkins Loan Program," Education Week reported. "The impact on the $951 million work-study program would affect about 590,000 students in approximately 3,400 participating institutions. Perkins affects about 673,000 students in some 1,600 participating institutions."
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