Budget

6 things to know if the government shuts down

Congress hasn't been back in session a week, but the rumblings of a possible government shutdown have been steadily emanating from Capitol Hill.

At the heart of this most recent of fiscal logjams is whether government will be able to pass a budget that includes funding for Planned Parenthood.

Twenty-eight Republican members of Congress have pledged to vote against any budget measure that includes funding for Planned Parenthood after a series of controversial sting videos from the healthcare non-profit emerged over the summer.

With funding for the government set to run out on Sept. 30, federal workers may feel like it's 2013 all over again, when a shutdown for shackled the feds for about two weeks.

But if two years seems like a distant memory, or at least a repressed one, here are six things to know if the government shuts down.

Who gets furloughed?

When funding runs out, federal agencies are required to cease operations with little notice. But don't expect to see tumbleweeds dancing through the District, as a select number of agencies are required to operate during a shutdown.

These "excepted" federal employees may continue working if they "are performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property or performing certain other types of excepted work."

A 2013 OPM guidance document on government shutdowns assigns agency legal counsel, in collaboration with senior managers, to determine who is and is not expected to show up during a shutdown. There are also workers who are exempt from a shutdown. These exempt workers are employees whose salaries are not affected by annual appropriations. Presidential appointees not covered by a formal leave system are also unaffected by shutdown furloughs.

Do contracts and grants cease during a shutdown?

Yes and no. A 2013 OMB guidance document outlines what happens to contracts during a shutdown.

If a contract has already been issued, and funds have either been allocated or multi-year or no-year funds are available, then contract work can continue during a shutdown.

If appropriations on a contract have lapsed, under The Antideficiency Act, agencies can add a new contract if operations are governed by a statute allowing the funds, if the contract addresses emergency circumstances, if the contract is necessary to carry out the president's constitutional powers and if the work is "necessarily implied" as a continuation of other authorized activities.

What about pay and benefits?

Excepted employees and presidential appointees will be paid only after Congress and the president sign an agreement to fund the government.

Congress determines whether furloughed employees will be paid. Back pay is another option Congress has used before, but it can also present complications. In 2013, federal employees were eligible for unemployment insurance during the furlough, but when Congress agreed to pay them retroactively after the shutdown ended, they had to pay back the insurance benefits.

Government workers will continue to be covered under Federal Employee Health Benefits, but premium cost accrued on furlough will be deducted from pay once a budget agreement has been reached. Any new enrollments or changes to a benefit plan would be suspended until a budget plan is reached. Open enrollments would continue as scheduled.

Who gets the blame?

It depends on whom you ask. Republicans will point to the issue of funding Planned Parenthood as evidence of Democrat intractability when it comes to compromise. Democrats, by contrast, could point to a shutdown as a sign of instability and partisanship within the GOP. Historically, government shutdowns in 1995 and 2013, tended to impact the Republicans more negatively.

Is a shutdown inevitable?

Not necessarily. If Congress can't agree on a new budget, it could pass a continuing resolution, or CR, which will keep the government funded at the same levels of the previous fiscal year or have amended funding levels.

The continuing resolution has become a kind of weapon of choice when it comes to budget appropriation. A regular appropriation requires the passage of a dozen bills before Oct. 1. A continuing resolution allows Congress to pass funding quickly, sometimes mere hours, before a government shutdown occurs, as happened in 2011 during the debt ceiling fight.

Does a CR guarantee no shutdown will occur?

Again, not necessarily. While the April 2011 CR did keep the government running, Congress later decided to shut down the FAA over a funding fight related to the agency. Depending on the funding arrangements, Congress could shutdown certain government entities when appropriations run out.

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