A government shutdown is looking increasingly likely by 12:01 a.m., Sunday, Oct. 1, if Congress doesn’t agree on an operating budget for the entire federal government by that time. The budget is encompassed in 12 appropriations bills which the House and Senate must approve. As of Thursday afternoon, several hopeful-seeming bipartisan agreements that seemed to be merging, were at a “standoff.” Same for various proposals for a Continuing Resolution (CR) to allow current funding to continue for assorted durations — 2-6 months, 12 weeks, 6 weeks and even one-week durations — while budget compromises could be haggled.
Some stakeholders cast the impact of a government shutdown as dire. “Nearly 2 million civilian federal workers — 15 percent of whom are based in the D.C. area — and another 2 million military workers would face delays in getting their paychecks,” Everett Kelley, president of the American Federation of Government Employees told the Associated Press. “Not getting paid will be devastating for many federal workers and their families. Some are going to go hungry without a paycheck,” Kelly said. “Some are going to miss a house note without a paycheck. Some are not going to be able to pay child care.”
The prospect of a shutdown also concerns thousands of federal contractors and people whose work is connected to the federal government, such as those who work for restaurants, food trucks and in tourism. Federal museums and festivals could be closed or canceled as was The National Celebration of Hip-Hop, originally set for Oct. 6 and 7 on the National Mall.
But no one can be certain how long a pending “shut down” might last nor how extensive it might be. Already there have been assurances that there would be no cuts in funding for the military or other critical services; nor would Medicare or Social Security payments be touched.
“We have received no word at all about a potential shutdown in my agency,” one long-time federal worker told The Georgetowner off the record. By this time in 2018 we all knew who would be furloughed without pay and who wouldn’t; who would have to shut off all official communication devices and do no business whatsoever, and who wouldn’t. Last time we were very anxious if those of us who were furloughed without pay would eventually be paid at all.”
This time there are no such worries. A law passed in 2019 requires all federal employees be paid back for any funds lost due to furloughs, total or partial shutdowns. Mail delivery and other services are expected to continue during a “shut-down,” although there may be some disruptions to services. Pension funds supported by long-term investments and annuities also would not be affected. Special unemployment benefits may be available in some states to pay immediate bills — but it would have to be paid back and would probably be taxed, according to experts.
But the very term “government shutdown” does seem to have political leverage, especially of the blame-game genre at the power-broker level. Congressional representatives on either side of the aisle have been using that leverage to push for support for their particular causes. For instance, in the bipartisan Senate bill, Democratic leaders seemed to have agreed to consider a possible temporary debt ceiling on new spending – a top Republican demand. But the red line in the sand seems to be an immediate halt to funding for the Russia-Ukraine war – that has split the Republican caucus to date. How far party leaders negotiate (some call it “cave” to the other sides’ demands) could determine their retaining their leadership positions.
The sort of government shutdown being considered today would most likely be partial and temporary and have little monetary impact in the long run on a federal employee. “But there would be some disruption of our work – especially if you are designated a furloughed worker and are not allowed to perform any business at all,” the anonymous federal employee said. “Since we haven’t heard anything at this late date, we kind of assume that a CR will be brokered at the very last minute if not on Sunday before anyone has to go back to work.”