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Government shutdown will have an impact, but it's not the end of the world

Published: Saturday, Sept. 5 2015 11:01 a.m. MDT

With a government shutdown due to begin Friday at midnight if Democrats and Republicans can’t reach an agreement on the budget, questions about the impact of such an action are beginning to grow.

The looming government shutdown has its roots in 2010, when Democrats failed to pass a budget for fiscal year 2011 while they controlled the House and Senate. In January, Republicans in the House passed a budget covering the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year. Following the bill’s defeat in the Senate, the government has continued to run on continuing resolutions while budget negotiations have been ongoing.

With the current budget resolution set to expire, Democrats and Republicans are haggling over cuts ranging between $33 billion and $40 billion for the rest of the fiscal year budget. According to National Journal, some of the debate comes over so-called “riders,” such as defunding Planned Parenthood, and some comes over the size of the cuts being proposed.

On House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s blog, he writes that House Republicans have offered three continuing resolutions to cut spending and prevent a government shutdown. The latest continuing resolution proposal, released Monday, would keep the government running for another week and asked for $12 billion in cuts, but was rejected by Democrats.

Cantor writes, “without letting the ink dry on the House Republicans’ latest CR, the White House and Senate Democrats rejected the offer, thus admitting their willingness to shut down the government over less than 0.5 percent spending.”

In a floor speech Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., argued that the Democrats’ only bottom line is to avoid a government shutdown.

“We want to pass a budget that makes smart cuts — cuts that save money, but that don’t cost jobs,” Reid said. “This has been our bottom line throughout this process, so we’ve made tough choices. We’ve made those choices because we know that at this late stage of the game, reality is more important than ideology. We know that sacrifices are the cost of consensus, and we think they’re worth it.”

While the country wonders about the impact of a government shutdown, a single question is emerging: does the rhetoric match the reality?

According to various news sources, a government shutdown would have possibly serious consequences for some. An estimated 800,000 nonessential federal employees would be furloughed, the Federal Housing Authority would stop processing loan guarantees, the Environmental Protection Agency would stop issuing permits and the Small Business Administration would stop processing direct small-business loans.

However, other less serious consequences are also being reported, such as the possible cancellation of the Washington cherry blossom parade; the closing of national parks, the Smithsonian Institution, the Capitol Visitor Center and the Botanic Gardens; and Capitol Hill staffers having to turn in their BlackBerrys.

In the case of a shutdown, questions about national security are most prominent and worrying.

On the national security side, NPR reports that activities considered “necessary for the safety of life and protection of property” would continue, including law enforcement, air traffic control, Department of Homeland Security functions and the military.

Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman, told Foreign Policy that, in the event of a government shutdown, the Defense Department would “retain the ability and the authority to continue to protect our vital interests around the world, to continue to safeguard the nation’s security, to wage the wars we’re fighting and the operations that we are conducting right now.”

Foreign Policy reports that a government shutdown would result in members of the military not receiving paychecks. While they would still continue to be paid, the money would not be distributed until the government resumed work.

However, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, introduced HR 1297, the Ensuring Pay for Our Military Act, which would ensure that members of the armed forces would continue to receive pay in the event of a shutdown. While the bill is currently in committee, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, also introduced the legislation in the Senate.

While the word “shutdown” implies that all government buildings would be shuttered and Washington would come to a halt, that wouldn’t be the case for many other government services.

The New York Times reports that Medicare payments would continue, although MSNBC states that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services might have to contract out the task of reimbursing doctors to private-sector contractors.

During a shutdown, employees whose salaries are funded through annual appropriations will be furloughed, unless their work qualifies as “excepted” to continue to work. Excepted employees will receive pay for hours worked when a budget or continuing resolution is signed. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Congress will determine whether “non-excepted" employees will receive pay during the furlough period.

Members of Congress and President Barack Obama, as of now, are considered “essential” government employees and would continue to be paid during a shutdown. However, according to USA Today, some on both sides of the aisle are trying to cut off their own pay during a shutdown. The Hill reports that each member and committee office will decide which of their staffers are “essential” and who can be furloughed.

While Obama warned Wednesday that a government shutdown would hurt the economy, The Wall Street Journal reports that the Federal Reserve would remain open with normal staffing during a shutdown.

In another Wall Street Journal story, William O’Donnell, a U.S. government bond strategist at RBS Securities Inc., said it was possible a government shutdown would have “no harm, no foul,” citing three other shutdowns — in 1981, 1984 and 1990 — as proof that their impacts were easily forgotten.

Already people are suggesting ways to work around some of the problems a government shutdown would create.

While Jake Tapper at ABC reports that the IRS will stop processing tax returns filed on paper during a shutdown, a Forbes blog post suggests E-filing to get around the problem.

In case their parade is canceled by a shutdown, The Washington Post reports cherry blossom parade organizers in Washington are discussing alternative plans. In another article by the same paper, alternative tourist destinations are suggested to help tourists who may have to skip the government-run sites in D.C.

Additional questions for federal workers, tourists or the general public are answered in a Washington Post breakdown on the impact of a government shutdown.

For government leaders, the real question of the possible shutdown so far has been where the public will place the blame.

Should Democrats, who didn’t pass the budget when they had the chance, be blamed? Should Republicans, who keep demanding budget cuts, be blamed? Or should the president, who has so far failed to negotiate a solution between the two sides, be blamed?

Following a meeting among the president, Reid, and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Tuesday, the president said he would invite congressional leaders to the White House for more negotiations until a deal could be reached. Despite the pledge, however, The Washington Post reports that Obama is spending the day giving speeches in the Philadelphia suburbs and in New York.

However, Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, announced on Twitter Wednesday afternoon that Boehner and Reid will continue negotiations at the White House Wednesday night.

While Boehner warned Republicans Tuesday that Democrats would “win” if the government shut down, he also told The New York Times that Obama has failed to lead on this year's budget, and that the House’s goal is to prevent a shutdown while making real cuts in spending.

In a Washington Post video, reporter Chris Cillizza calls a shutdown a “lose-lose situation,” and he may prove to be right. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, fingers are already being pointed at Republicans, Democrats and the president. While that poll places more of the blame on Republicans, an online Wall Street Journal reader poll puts more of the blame on Democrats.

While negotiations in Washington continue, some are saying there are signs of a deal in the works. On Good Morning America, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the lack of a meeting at the White House is a good sign.

“If (Boehner) can resist (the tea party), not give them their way on everything, I think we can have an agreement, and that is why there is a glimmer of hope,” Schumer said. “But the tea party has to compromise a little and Speaker Boehner has to tell them that.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., said Wednesday that she “firmly” believes a deal can be made to avoid a government shutdown. However, she said the blame for a shutdown rests on the Democrats, whose goal “is to see government shut down.”

On Tuesday, the president said he would not support another resolution, Yahoo News reports.

"That is not a way to run a government," Obama said. "I can't have our agencies making plans based on two-week budgets. I can't have the Defense Department, I can't have the State Department, I can't have our various agencies on food safety and making sure our water is clean and making sure that our airports are functioning, I can't have them making decisions based on two-week-at-a-time budgets."

However, as of Wednesday afternoon, ABC News reports that Boehner said a deal had not been reached between both sides, and that he plans to bring a one-week extension to the floor. The extension would cut $12 billion and would provide funds for the Pentagon for the rest of the fiscal year.

“It would be easy to just fold your cards and go home,” Boehner said. “That’s not what the American people elected us to do. They elected us to cut spending because cutting spending will lead to a better environment for job creators to create jobs. And we’re going to fight for as many spending cuts as we can get.”

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company