Mallory SoRelleBy Kathleen Parrish

If Congress doesn’t pass a spending bill by midnight Thursday, the U.S. government will shut down for the second time in three weeks.  Mallory SoRelle, assistant professor of government and law, offers a historical perspective of shutdowns and says what services are affected in the event of one.  

  1. Since 1976, there have been eight government shutdowns leading to federal employees being furloughed, including the one last month that lasted three days.
  2. Most shutdowns are avoided by the passage of a continuing resolution, a stop-gap funding bill designed to keep the lights on.  Since the mid-1990s, there have been 107 continuing resolutions. “The problem with that is when you do a continuing resolution it’s ususally funded at the existing level so you’re not re-evaluting programs and spending,” says SoRelle.
  3. During former President Bill Clinton’s administration, there were two shutdowns in 1995-96 lasting a total of 26 days.
  4. During the shutdown in 2013, former President Barack Obama and members of Congress pushed through a bill enabling those in the military to get paid. This time around, Democrats tried to propose similar legislation to make sure military would get pay checks if the shutdown lasted past Feb. 1 (it didn’t), but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) would not let it come to the floor.
  5. Non-essential employees are furloughed during a shutdown, but there’s flexibility in what jobs are deemed non-essential. In 2013, national parks were closed,  but people could still visit. However, “if you went to the bathroom there might not be anyone cleaning it,” SoRelle says.
  6. Nonessential personnel usually do not get paid during a shutdown, but it’s doubtful a furlough saves the government any money. Federal agencies are required to develop contingency plans that spell out what will happen in the event of a shutdown. “It’s costly because it takes a fair amount of time to put together and then agencies have to handle the backlog of work it causes,” she says.
  7. Many employees at the Center for Disease Control are not classified as essential, meaning many of the men and women tracking this year’s deadly flu season could be sent home in the event of a shutdown.
  8. Services most affected by a shutdown include applications that need to be processed by a government agency. That includes passports, visas, clinical trial participation, and grants. “If you’re receiving social security you’ll continue to do so, but if you’re just now applying you could be in trouble,” says SoRelle.
  9. Mail delivery is considered essential.
  10. Social security, Medicare, and Medicaid funding are not typically affected by a shutdown.

“A short shutdown doesn’t affect the average person a whole lot,” says SoRelle. “But if you’re planning to go on a trip and see a national monument, you should probably reconsider your plans.”

1 Comment

  1. Richard Sappelli says:

    I enjoyed the historical view of past shut downs. We the American people really do not care if the government is shut down. Those in the beltway do not really care about us in the hinterlands but only want to maintain their overpaid positions in a government that has become too large. Most Americans want that swamp cleaned out and all of government made smaller and less wasteful. We elected Donald Trump to clean out DC and make government smaller – to decrease a lot of the regulations that stifle business and the way we live. So if it takes a government shutdown – so be it. We say good – go for it.

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