What a Government Shutdown Means to You

A look at the worst-case scenario from a few points of view

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The ongoing standoff in Washington over the federal budget is now less than three days away from its deadline, with Republicans and Democrats still locked in disagreement in the House of Representatives. If the parties can't pass a spending plan by the end of Friday, money will stop flowing from federal coffers, and the government will start to shut down on Saturday. But what does that mean, exactly?

For the general Public: Unless you are one of 4.4 million people who work for the federal government, you probably won't notice the shutdown at first, especially since many federal offices are closed on the weekend anyway. Employees considered essential — including soldiers, security personnel and intelligence workers — will remain on the job, but operations like the Smithsonian will close. As the New York Times points out, "the National Zoo will close but the lions will get fed." Federal courts will stay open for at least a couple of weeks, operating from funds they have on hand. "After that, who knows?" courts spokeswoman Karen E. Redmond told the Times. The Post Office will stay open, as it is owned, but not operated by the federal government, but the IRS will close. That means many people waiting on refund checks will have to keep waiting. However, Social Security checks will go out.

For federal employees: Some or all of the 1.9 civilian government employees could be furloughed if they are deemed non-essential. According to the Washington Post, "any workers scheduled to take paid leave would not be able to, and some would be eligible for unemployment benefits if a shutdown continued for more than a few days." Furloughed congressional staffers have been paid in the past, the Times reports, "but the political climate now is different, and lawmakers might be less willing to do so." If the shutdown lasts more than a week or so, members of the military — deemed essential personnel — may have to go to work without pay. Reports the Post: "If the current funding expires on Friday, in the middle of the military’s two-week pay period, the Defense Department would distribute paychecks for the first week."

For Congress: A group of 21 Senate Democrats is trying to pass a bill to halt pay for Congress and the President, but that seems unlikely, the Post reports.

“Our bill is simple: If we cannot do our work and keep the government functioning, we should not receive a paycheck,” the Senate Democrats wrote to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “If we cannot compromise and meet each other halfway, then we should not be paid.”

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, responded that House Republicans’ “goal is to cut spending, not shut down the government – and we’ve passed a bill to just that,” a reference to the $61 billion in proposed cuts passed by the House in February but later rejected by the Senate.

For state governments: States that are far more cash-strapped than they were during the government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996 will have a very hard time. Not only will state programs funded by federal grants — such as higher education, research, and law enforcement training — likely be delayed or stopped, but the trickle-down effect of unpaid government contracts, closed national parks and shuttered federal offices would mean local industry and tourism would suffer.

Both parties claim they want to avoid a shutdown at all costs, and as Reuters points out, the public will blame both equally if one occurs. The Associated Press talked to some economists who said a shutdown could drag the economy back into a recession "very quickly." We've got a little less than 72 hours to get the bill passed, so lawmakers, roll up those sleeves and get to compromising.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.