What Happens If the Government Does Shut Down? (UPDATE)
posted at 11:58 am on April 6, 2011 by Howard Portnoy
UPDATE: An earlier iteration of this column contained information culled from an Office of Management and Budget memo that his turned out in part to be incorrect. My thanks to reader RachDubya and my colleague and friend J.E. Dyer for pointing out the errors.
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Now that a shutdown of the federal government on Friday seems increasingly likely, a question many Americans are asking is “What does a shutdown mean?” A memo from the Office of Management and Budget outlining contingency plans provides some answers.
According to the memo, Congress would be largely unaffected by a shutdown. Except for nonessential employees, legislative branch would continue to do business as usual. It is constitutionally obliged to do just that:
Because a disruption in the legislative activities of the House would prevent the House from exercising its powers under Article I of the Constitution of the United States, essential employees should continue to perform their normal duties.
Who are nonessential congressional personnel, and what fate would befall them? That, too, is specified:
[E]ach House employing authority shall designate as essential personnel only those employees whose primary job responsibilities are directly related to constitutional responsibilities, related to the protection of human life, or related to the protection of property. All other House personnel shall be placed in a furlough status by the appropriate employing authority until appropriations are made available.
Despite earlier reports that the Pentagon would likewise be unfazed by a shutdown, I have since learned that military pay could be suspended. J.E. has a column on this topic today which I urge readers to turn to next. In order for service members to continue receiving paychecks, Congress would have to pass a bill introduced last week that would ensure there is not a lapse in military pay. This potential glitch would also affect military contractors in a number of key areas. These lapses could impact national security.
Other federal employees may face a similar scenario, as workers did during the last government shutdown, which occurred in 1995. (Yes, there have been previous shutdowns!) Some workers were “furloughed,” while others continued to work without pay on the premise that they would receive retroactive pay once the government was back online. This retroactive pay would need to written into whatever budget legislation was eventually passed by Congress.
Recipients of government entitlement programs, such as Social Security, food stamps, Medicare, and Medicaid, would not experience a delay in payments, though new applications for any of these programs would likely be placed on hold.
Other nonessential government services, such as national parks and museums, would close during a shutdown.
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