“Government shutdown.” Probably no two words strike more fear in the hearts of Washington politicians.
The fact that a shutdown is possible once again is a sign of how messy Washington’s budgeting process really is. I’ve been told that it was once an orderly process where timelines were largely met, but I don’t remember seeing that in a long time. Instead, it’s become a ridiculous political game.
This time the biggest issue holding up a deal is a confrontation between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over border security funding.
As Congress barrels toward a Friday spending showdown, the potential of a partial government shutdown is very real. But what would it actually mean to you and me? Short term, it wouldn’t mean much. Five of 12 annual spending bills became law in September. That includes the military, so there is no threat to national defense.
It also includes the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Interior, and Veterans Affairs. In fact, 75 percent of the discretionary budget has already been funded through September 2019.
A shutdown wouldn’t be good, of course, but it’s not as scary as you think. There wouldn’t be lawlessness in the streets. You’d still get your Social Security check.
Here’s what this partial shutdown and an alternative might look like.
A partial shutdown would mean that major federal agencies such as the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, State, and Transportation would be left without funding.
Many of the services they provide, however, would not be interrupted. Four hundred and twenty thousand “essential” federal employees would continue to work, including 41,000 law enforcement and correctional officers and up to 88 percent of DHS employees. America’s safety would not be sacrificed.
Benefit payments wouldn’t be impacted either. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid payments, as well as veterans benefits, would continue uninterrupted. These programs don’t rely on Congress taking action for annual funding to continue, or their appropriations were already passed into law.
Mail service would also continue as scheduled since the Postal Service has its own revenue stream. National parks would remain open, though with reduced staff. The closing of national monuments and memorials that happened under one of the shutdowns during the Obama administrations was purely for appearance…absolutely unnecessary.
About 380,000 federal employees would be furloughed for the duration of a shutdown, meaning that they wouldn’t be paid nor expected to work. Agencies that would be most affected include the Department of Commerce, NASA, the IRS, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Based on past government shutdowns, all furloughed employees would likely be paid when the shutdown ends.
The more likely outcome, in my opinion, is for Congress to pursue a continuing resolution to keep the government open. That scenario played out as the last funding deadline approached on Dec. 7.
Under this situation, agencies would operate at their 2018 budget levels for the duration of the continuing resolution. Congress could choose to extend funding for a short period of time (likely into early 2019) or could opt for a full-year continuing resolution.
If Congress passes a short-term continuing resolution, then it would be back in the same mess in just a few short weeks.
Passing a full-year continuing resolution would put an end to the budget drama for this year. However, it would also leave both Republicans and Democrats unsatisfied, with Trump not getting additional border security money and Democrats unable to enact some of their priorities.
But it would save taxpayers money. If unfunded agencies simply continued to receive money at the 2018 level, it would cut spending by $11 billion.
Regardless of what happens, one thing is clear: The budget process is broken, and taxpayers are the real losers. Budgeting by crisis erodes oversight and leads to wasteful spending. Long-term, that’s more damaging than a partial shutdown.