The Government Shutdown

It’s almost October, and that means the leaves are changing colors, the pumpkin spice latte is back, and the country once again finds itself on the brink of a possible government shutdown.

If you know nothing about the government shutdown, you’re not alone! Until two weeks ago, I thought a government shutdown meant that the police would stop working, firefighters would let houses burn down and public schools would close. That is not the case. A government shutdown does not mean the country stops working.  However, it does mean that the government stops providing many non-essential services. The Office of Management and Budget decides which government services would stop in a shutdown. Generally, agencies continue to operate in a shutdown if they are essential to protect our nation or the safety and life of the people in it. Our military would continue to fight overseas, doctors and nurses would continue to report to public hospitals, border patrol would keep going to work on the border, and our prisons would be staffed.

Now if all of America’s essential services continued to run, would a shutdown really be that bad? As the daughter of a federal employee, I say yes. A government shutdown means my father, along with hundreds of thousands of other people employed by the government would go without pay for the duration of the shutdown. The government shutdown in 1995-1996 lasted 28 days, so there is the potential that my father, and many other people like him, could go without pay for close to a month.

And while Social Security checks are considered a mandatory service and would be able sent out in a government shutdown, the Social Security Administration might not be able to pay people to process and send out the checks, so there is the possibility that people would go without their Social Security money. In addition, the government will not be able to process any applications for student loans during a shutdown, which will negatively affect students around the country.

Finally, the Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan think tank in Congress estimated that the two shutdowns in 1995 and 1996 cost the government close to 1.4 billion dollars. In a fight over spending and debt, it seems shocking that elected officials would even consider such a costly move.

So why is a government shutdown even being considered as a possibility? There is a committed group of Republicans in the House and the Senate who are refusing to vote for any budget that funds Obamacare. Republicans in the House will not pass the Senate budget, which contains no provision to defund Obamacare. Conversely, the democratically controlled Senate will not pass any budget the House passes, because they do not want to pass a budget with dramatic cuts to social services.

This gridlock might be a surmountable obstacle, but Congress is running out of time to act. The budget needs to be passed by October 1st, or the country could face a government shutdown.

If you think you might not be affected by a government shutdown, I urge you to think again. Most of us have a relative on Social Security. I’m sure many of us take out student loans, and some of us have parents who are federal employees. The government shutdown may not affect you personally, but it could negatively affect your relatives, your friends and your peers. And if you still need a reason to be angry about a shutdown, there is the potential that Congress would receive their paychecks, even as thousands of Americans are furloughed. Changing Congressional pay takes legislation, and while a bill that stops pay for elected officials in a shutdown has passed in the Senate, the House has not passed it yet.

There is no reason our elected officials should be paid if they force thousands of Americans to take an undetermined amount of unpaid leave. These people were not elected to destroy the government, they were elected to run it. If the idea of a shutdown enrages you, I urge you to call your Representative or Senator and make your voice heard. Remind them who elected them, and hopefully encourage them to act.

First Published: September 20th, 2013