Government 'shutdown' to affect half of federal workers
WASHINGTON — Here's the truth about a government “shutdown.” The government doesn't shut down.
So the world won't end if a dysfunctional Washington can't find a way to pass a funding bill before the new budget year begins on Oct. 1.
Social Security checks will still go out. Troops will remain at their posts. Doctors and hospitals will get their Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. In fact, virtually every essential government agency, like the FBI, the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard, will remain open. Furloughed federal workers probably would get paid eventually. Transportation Security Administration officers would continue to man airport checkpoints.
Lurking around the corner is a far bigger danger: Sometime in late October or early November the government could run out of cash. The United States would be unable to pay all of its bills in full and on time for the first time in history if it couldn't borrow more money.
While the Treasury Department probably would make interest payments to bondholders to prevent a catastrophic default on the debt, it wouldn't be able to make other payments on time, which would mean delays in Social Security benefits and in paychecks for federal workers and troops in the field.
Americans would feel the pain.
To prevent a “shutdown,” Congress must pass a temporary spending bill before Oct. 1. To prevent a default, it must raise the $16.7 trillion cap on government borrowing.
Under current estimates, the “X date” by which the government can't meet all of its payments would come in the latter half of October or early November. So Congress needs to act by mid-October to be safe.
In the case of a shutdown, fewer than half of the 2.1 million federal workers subject to it would be forced off the job if the Obama administration follows the rules followed by previous Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. That's not counting about 500,000 Postal Service employees or 1.4 million uniformed military personnel, who would be exempt.
The rules for who works and who doesn't date back to the early 1980s and haven't been significantly modified since. The Obama administration reissued the guidance on Wednesday.
The air traffic control system, food inspection, Medicare, veterans health care and many other essential government programs would run as usual.
The Social Security Administration not only would send out benefits but would continue to take applications. The Postal Service, which is self-funded, would keep delivering the mail. The Federal Emergency Management Agency could continue to respond to disasters at the height of hurricane season.
Museums along the National Mall would close. National parks would be closed to visitors, a loss often emphasized in shutdown discussions.
The Capitol would remain open, however. Congress is deemed essential, despite its abysmal poll ratings.
From a practical perspective, shutdowns usually are not that big a deal. They happened every year when Jimmy Carter was president, averaging 11 days each. During Reagan's two terms, there were six shutdowns, typically just one or two days apiece. Deals got cut. Everybody moved on.
In 1995-96, however, shutdowns morphed into political warfare, to the disappointment of Republicans who thought they could use them to drag Clinton to the negotiating table on a balanced budget plan.
Republicans took a big political hit, but most Americans suffered relatively minor inconveniences like closed parks and delays in processing passport applications.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pope picks moderate to be Chicago archbishop
- Ticks reduce moose population in northern states
- 121 tourists stranded on schooner near Statue of Liberty
- White House intrusions reveal problems with security, Secret Service
- Pentagon program seeks to retain U.S. technological edge against foreign rivals
- Scope of Chrysler’s latest SUV recall questioned
- Authorities in California search for 5 jail escapees
- Egyptian Bary admits links to 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa
- Hurricane shattered Charleston, S.C., tested mayor 25 years ago
- Threats from Mexican cartels lead protesters to scrap immigration rallies, organizer says
- GOP senators fret U.S. would let Iran disconnect, not scrap, centrifuges