With both Republicans in Congress and President Obama deadlocked over the size of spending cuts in a new budget bill that will fund the federal government through September 30th, the government will shutdown effective at midnight on Friday unless an agreement is reached soon.
Mr. Obama has already indicated he won’t sign another stopgag measure like he has on two other occasions which contained a total of $10 billion in cuts. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) proposed another short-term spending bill on Monday, which includes a week-long measure containing $12 billion in cuts and funds the Defense Department through the end of the year.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Mr. Obama said “I can’t have my agencies making plans on two-week budgets,” “What we are not going to do’’ Obama made clear `` is once again put off something that should have gotten done months ago.”
As an indication of just how perilous the stalemate really is, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), told the Washington Post that the two sides are still miles apart and the chance of a long term agreement being worked this week isn’t very likely. Democrats, meanwhile, said that Mr. Boehner would be willing to strike a deal with $40 billion in budget cuts, a significant reduction from the $61 billion in cuts passed by the House in February.
But if an agreement isn’t reached and a government shutdown does take place, exactly how many federal employees will be affected; and how will the public at large be impacted through a loss of services?
While there are few details available on exactly how many employees will be affected in 2011, the two shutdowns in the mid-1990’s, might give some indication.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the first government shutdown which lasted five days, from November 13-19, 1995, resulted in the furlough of an estimated 800,000 federal employees. The second shutdown, which lasted 21 days (December 15, 1995 through January 6, 1996), the longest in history, an estimated 284,000 federal employees were furloughed, while another 475,000 excepted federal employees continued to work without pay.
A number of unions, including the National Federation of Federal Employees, have grown concerned that the Obama administration has not given them a straight answer whether employees who continued to work without pay would receive retroactive pay once an agreement has been reached. The Office of Personnel Management General Counsel Elaine Kaplan reportedly said it remains an "outstanding legal issue" that was never fully resolved after the 1995-1996 government shutdowns. Back then, Congress voted to repay employees who worked during the shutdown.
Federal employees not subject to a furlough include: Members of Congress, the President, presidential appointees, certain legislative branch employees, and federal employees deemed “excepted’’ because they perform emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property. These would in all likelihood include: military and national security personnel, air traffic controllers, law enforcement officers, food inspection, Medicare, veterans' health care emergency, disaster assistance workers and federal prison employees.
Members of the judiciary wouldn’t be affected either, since it draws used fee revenues and ``carryover’’ funds from previous years in order to continue the essential functions of hearing and deciding cases. And according to the official publication of the U.S. courts, “all activities essential to maintain and support the exercise of the judicial power of the United States during a funding lapse would continue.’’
Congressional sources estimate that less than half of the 2.1 million federal workers subject to a shutdown would be forced off the job if the shutdown followed the same path blazed by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Areas likely to be closed during a shutdown, include: all national parks (such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park), museums (such as the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.) and libraries. During the 1995 shutdown, the National Park Service closed 368 sites, which resulted in the loss of seven million visitors and about $14.2 million per day in tourism revenue. During a shutdown, the public will be unable to renew passports, apply for new Social Security cards or even get tax refund checks.
Since the Postal Service is self-funded, service would continue uninterrupted.
Often overlooked is that the highway trust fund is governed by Congress' authorization of transportation programs. According to Moody’s Investors Service, ``at least 18 state highway programs and five mass transit agencies rely exclusively on federal funds to repay their bonds.’’ Moody’s additionally points out that local governments, universities, research institutions, hospitals, and health care systems, including airports and state housing finance agencies, may also depend on federal funds in their budgets.
During the 1995 shutdown, it was reported that more than 400,000 veterans saw their disability benefits and pension claims delayed. Also during that time, while Social Security checks continued without interruption, payments were delayed as officials struggled to process them with such a limited staff.
Taken together, according to a Congressional Research Service report, six fairly lengthy funding gaps occurred from FY1977 to FY1980, ranging from 8 to 17 full days, while from FY1981 to FY1995, nine funding gaps occurred with durations of up to three full days, the exception being the 21-day shutdown in 1996 when Bill Clinton and the 104th Congress locked horns over budget policy.
Believe it or not, for years federal agencies continued operating under spending gaps, while waiting for the passage of annual appropriations acts or continuing resolutions. That all changed in 1981, when Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti issued two opinions that strictly interpreted the Antideficiency Act as a law that prohibits federal officials from obligating funds before an appropriations measure has been enacted, except as authorized by law.
So while the prospect of an agreement before Friday looks grim; it should also be noted that neither President Obama or Mr. Boehner and the Republican Congress can afford the potential backlash from frustrated voters that will likely occur should there be a shutdown. A new Washington Post poll shows that 37 percent of voters would be blame the Obama administration, while the same percentage would fault the Republicans in Congress.
With neither side, then, standing to gain any political advantage from a shutdown, the odds are that a deal will be struck between Congress and the Obama administration in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th minute.
April 6, 2011
According to the Congressional Research Service, the following areas were affected during the 1996 government shutdown.
• Health: New patients were not accepted into clinical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) clinical center; while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discontinued disease surveillance; and hotline calls to NIH concerning diseases went answered
• Law Enforcement and Public Safety: Delays occurred in the processing of alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives applications by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
• Parks, Museums, and Monuments: Closure of 368 National Park Service sites, with loss of tourism revenues to local communities; and closure of national museums and monuments (reportedly with an estimated loss of 2 million visitors).
• Visas and Passports: Approximately 20,000-30,000 applications by foreigners for visas reportedly went unprocessed daily; 200,000 U.S. applications for passports reportedly went unprocessed; while U.S. tourist industries and airlines reportedly sustained millions of dollars in losses.
• American Veterans: Several services were reduced, ranging from health and welfare to finance and travel.
• Federal Contractors: Of $18 billion in Washington, DC, area contracts, $3.7 billion (over 20%) reportedly were affected adversely by the funding lapse.
• Approximately 800,000 federal employees were unable to work.
• The U.S. Border Patrol canceled the recruitment and hiring of 400 new agents while delaying various delinquent child-support cases.
• Over 3,500 bankruptcies were suspended.
Web Sites to Keep in Mind:
Guidance and Information on Furloughs U.S. Office of Personnel Management
State-by-State data on federal employees by agency, from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management
U.S. Census Bureau’s Consolidated Federal Funds Report –Federal spending by state and county, including salaries of federal workers.