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Q&A: What would a government shutdown mean to you?

Published September 25, 2013 12:44 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

What is a shutdown?

The federal government runs out of money to continue operating Oct. 1, and Congress has yet to agree on funding going forward. If the deadline passes, all nonessential government functions must cease. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers would be furloughed without pay while those performing critical functions would be required to show up even if they're not being paid. This last happened in December 1995 and January 1996, when the government shuttered for 21 days as President Bill Clinton and Congress couldn't agree on a budget.

How would a shutdown impact Utah?

There would be some noticeable changes — such as the closing of the state's five national parks, shuttered federal offices and up to 30,000 federal employees in the state furloughed — and some indirect effects, such as a drop in tourism and possible cuts to research grants and long-term projects that haven't been approved for this year's federal money. Federal courts could operate for a short amount of time but might also close.

Would my Social Security or military benefits check still come?

Yes, though there could be delays. Mandatory spending would continue if the government shuts down, so Social Security checks and military benefits would be paid. No one new would be able to sign up for Social Security during a halt in government operations and with fewer people staffing the payouts, there could be hiccups or delays in processing checks or deposits.

Who is to blame?

Depends on your political persuasion. Republicans argue that there's no need to close the government and that Democrats should just agree to halt funding for Obamacare and the world would keep on spinning. Democrats say the GOP is so dead set on killing Obamacare that the party would rather stop the government from running than see the health-care reform implemented.

What would continue?

Essential services, such as Border Patrol, national security, prisons, medical care, emergency response and federal law enforcement would continue, as would the protection of federal buildings. Active military service members abroad and domestically would continue to serve and contractors whose funding came through prior budgets would be paid. The U.S. Postal Service, which is set up to be self-sustaining, would still deliver the mail six days a week. Air traffic controllers would be on the job and, yes, the pandas at the National Zoo would get fed along with their fellow animals but visitors wouldn't be able to see them.

When would it stop?

That depends on when Congress and President Barack Obama can agree on funding for the government. Shutdowns in the mid-1990s ranged from a few days to nearly three weeks. It's unclear how long this shutdown could be.

What happened last time?

In 1995-1996, some 800,000 federal workers were told to stay home and went without pay for 21 days while nonessential services were halted. For example, work on 3,500 bankruptcy cases was suspended, recruitment and testing of law-enforcement officials were canceled, the 368 national park sites closed, visas and passports went unprocessed, services for veterans were curtailed and some federal contractors were left unpaid. Federal workers and active military soldiers who were forced to work during a shutdown were eventually paid when the government started running again. Those workers who were furloughed were also paid — but there are no guarantees that would happen this time.

Why shouldn't it shut down?

The federal government provides critical services to Americans and without funding, most would stop. Beyond the immediate impacts, there could also be lingering effects when the government starts working again and piles of undone work remain. National security efforts could be hurt, the already-shaken U.S. economy could take a hit and those relying on federal payments or federal paychecks might struggle to pay for food or rent.

Is this different than the debt ceiling?

Yes. The Treasury Department has warned the federal government will hit its debt ceiling, the maximum amount it can borrow, by mid-October but this looming government shutdown deadline is unrelated. The lack of a budget, or a resolution continuing government spending past Sept. 30, is the issue at hand, though the debt ceiling fight will surface soon as well.

How does this relate to Obamacare?

Republicans, mainly Sens. Mike Lee and Ted Cruz, are using the budget fight to try and kill any funding for the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, as it's also known. It it should be noted, however, that because the health care law is funded outside of the discretionary budget, similar to Social Security, funding for Obamacare wouldn't actually be affected.

Sources: Tribune reporting, the Congressional Research Service