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Psst. No shutdown during a 'government shutdown'

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Jolted to action by deficit-conscious newcomers, the Republican-controlled House passed sweeping legislation early Saturday to cut $61 billion from hundreds of federal programs. (Feb 19)

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By ANDREW TAYLOR
The Associated Press
Friday, February 25, 2011; 2:03 PM

WASHINGTON -- Social Security checks would still go out. Troops would remain at their posts. Furloughed federal workers probably would get paid, though not until later. And virtually every essential government agency, like the FBI, the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard, would remain open.

That's the little-known truth about a government shutdown. The government doesn't shut down.

And it won't on March 5, even if the combatants on Capitol Hill can't resolve enough differences to pass a stopgap spending bill to fund the government while they hash out legislation to cover the last seven months of the budget year.

Fewer than half of the 2.1 million federal workers subject to a shutdown would be forced off the job if the Obama administration followed the path taken by presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. And that's not counting 600,000 Postal Service employees or 1.6 million uniformed military personnel exempt from a shutdown.

So we're talking fewer than one in four federal workers staying at home. Many federal workers get paid on March 4, so it would take a two-week shutdown for them to see a delay in their paychecks.

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 hasn't issued new guidance.

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 would not only send out benefits but would continue to take applications. The Postal Service, which is self-funded, would keep delivering the mail. Federal courts would remain open.

The cherry blossoms in Washington would bloom as usual, and visitors to the city would be able to park and see them in all their glory around the Tidal Basin.

But they wouldn't be able to take the elevator up the Washington Monument, visit museums along the National Mall or take a White House tour. 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.

The IRS wouldn't answer its taxpayer hotline - at the height of tax-filing season. Under IRS precedents, the agency would process tax returns that contain payments. But people getting refunds would have to wait.

All sides say they don't want a so-called shutdown like the two separate partial government closings in 1995-1996, when President Clinton and a then-new GOP majority in Congress were at loggerheads over the budget. Republicans took most of the political blame, and the episodes gave Clinton critical momentum on his way to re-election.


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