8 Questions About A 2017 Government Shutdown You Were Too Afraid to Ask
Unless Congress votes on a resolution to continue funding the government by Friday, the government will shut down for the second time this century. GOP leaders are putting together a short-term funding bill, at least in this calendar year, but its success is far from certain. With that in mind, you probably have lots of questions about this potential government shutdown.
Republicans control both congressional chambers, but divisions within the party mean that a resolution will actually need Democratic votes to pass. Two of the major issues that Democrats are pushing to be included are funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and protection for 800,000 undocumented "dreamers," young undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for most of their lives.
The GOP's short-term funding bill does fund the CHIP, but only until March. It includes $81 billion for disaster relief and $5 billion for emergency defense spending, and would let President Trump immediately sign the new tax bill into law. But it doesn't look like this bill will really address Democrats' concerns.
"Unless we see a respect for our values and priorities, we continue to urge a strong NO on the Continuing Resolution," wrote House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a letter to Democratic members of the chamber on Wednesday. If Democrats follow her lead, we could be in for a shutdown on Friday night. So here's what you need to know.
What Is A Government Shutdown?
The government shuts down if Congress — which has "the power of the purse" — does not appropriate the money it requires to keep running. Congress must pass appropriations bills annually that determine the budget for most federal programs and services.
All federal employees (except for those working for organizations that are funded independently and those whose payment is guaranteed by a permanent law) will stop being paid during the shutdown. They will likely receive retroactive pay after the government reopens; this has been the policy after every previous shutdown, but is not guaranteed by law.
"Essential" employees will keep going to work, albeit without pay. "Non-essential" employees will be furloughed, i.e. stay home from work.
What Shuts Down And What Stays Open?
We don't know exactly which services will continue to be provided, because each federal agency and program makes its own shutdown plan (though the Office of Management and Budget has ultimate control) and we don't know what those look like for 2017. But here's what we can assume.
Let's start with what will remain open. These are services that are considered "essential," which typically includes air traffic control, border protection, power grid maintenance, and law enforcement. Mandatory, permanent spending programs like Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare will keep issuing checks (though they will probably not process new applicants). The U.S. Postal Service, Federal Reserve, and other organizations that are funded independently will continue as normal. So will the active-duty military.
But the list of the services that will be shut down is likely much larger. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will stop inspections. National parks and monuments will close. Ongoing research by agencies like NASA and the Census Bureau will be put on hold. So will the processing of paperwork by organizations like the IRS and the Federal Housing Authority.
Will It Affect Me?
If you're a federal employee whose paycheck is funded by the government, you won't receive payment until the government opens again. If you're trying to enter a federal program like Medicare, Medicaid, or SNAP (previously known as "food stamps"), your application could be delayed. You could also experience a delay if you're applying for a mortgage, passport, or small business loan.
When Was The Last Time This Happened?
The last government shutdown occurred during President Obama's tenure, when conservatives like Ted Cruz tried to use the opportunity to defund Obamacare. It lasted from Sep. 30 to Oct. 17, 2013. The previous shutdown happened at the end of 1995 into 1996.
How And When Does This End?
It ends when Congress passes either a budget appropriations bill or a short-term continuing resolution. It's hard to say how long it will take for that to happen; the shutdown in 2013 lasted 18 days. The shutdown at the end of 1995 last 21 days. Others have been much shorter.
Does A Shutdown Save The Federal Government Money?
In a word, no. Barring a highly unexpected turn of events, the government will opt to retroactively pay all of its employees. In 2013, furloughed employees were paid $2 billion after the fact ($2.5 billion, including benefits). And that's for services that they didn't actually perform. While some people refer to this as "extra paid vacation" for federal employees, that's not how it feels for them. They don't know when they're going to go back to work, or even when they're going to get paid, which is scary for people who aren't sitting on a major financial cushion.
The National Park Service loses tourism revenue while its parks and monuments are shut down. Certain programs that collect charges from citizens, including user fees, lose money when they cease to make those collections during a shutdown.
Will Congress Members Continue To Be Paid?
Congress' pay is written into permanent law, so yes: The same representatives who allowed the shutdown to occur will themselves continue to be paid as normal during the shutdown.
What Control Does President Trump Have Over All Of This?
Only Congress can fund the government with a continuing resolution or budget appropriations bill. However, the president actually has ultimate authority over deeming federal employees "essential" or "non-essential." That's because the designation is controlled by the Office of Management and Budget, which is an executive office that's overseen by the president. Technically, Trump could direct the office to do as he sees fit.