When Congress returns on September 12, the House will have 12 days to reach a consensus on the 2024 federal budget. Should they fail to pass a budget, they will bring about a government shutdown.
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, has proposed a “continuing resolution,” which would prevent the shutdown while also maintaining 2023 spending levels.
But as the deadline looms, the House Freedom Caucus has called for more immediate reform. The newly-formed conservative GOP group declared this week that it will only support a stop-gap measure that
Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, have blamed Republicans for threatening a government shutdown while also refusing to negotiate any of their own budgetary demands.
Few people actually are calling for a government shutdown, but what would happen if Joe Biden and the Democrats in Congress cause one? The legacy media has described the potential shutdown as a “cataclysmic” event triggered by “extreme far-right” Republicans.
In fact, reality rarely lives up to the liberal hype.
In a shutdown, federal agencies must discontinue all non-essential discretionary functions until new funding legislation is passed and signed into law. Essential services continue to function, as do mandatory spending programs. The federal government temporarily stops paying employees and contractors who perform government services, whereas in a default the list of parties not paid is much broader.
There have been 17 funding gaps since 1977, ranging in duration from one to 21 days.
According to the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Budget:
In prior shutdowns, border protection, in-hospital medical care, air traffic control, law enforcement, and power grid maintenance have been among the services classified as essential, while some legislative and judicial staff have also been largely protected. Mandatory spending not subject to annual appropriations, such as for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, also continues.
“Other examples of activities that continue,” the group added, “are those funded by permanent user fees that are not subject to appropriations, such as immigration services funded by visa fees.”
Additionally, thanks to hundreds of millions in taxpayer funds directed to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), their operations would continue, and their nearly 100,000 employees would be exempt from furlough.
In Biden’s Hands
It is ultimately up to the president to decide which services or employees are essential. In the past, Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have shut down national parks and monuments.
In a dramatic instance of political theater in 2013, President Obama blocked World War II veterans from visiting the open-air, privately-funded, World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. It was only after Republican Members of Congress physically escorted the veterans that the Park Police and President Obama finally relented.
Government bureaucrats are the most affected (imagine the blow to your ego it would be to be declared a “nonessential government bureaucrat!”), yet many actually receive a paid vacation for the duration of the shutdown. Furloughed employees are guaranteed back pay due to legislation passed in January 2019.
In the 2018-2019 shutdown, an estimated 380,000 employees out of 1,869,986 were furloughed – that is only about 20% of the federal workforce. Another 420,000 employees reported to work but did not receive their back pay until the shutdown ended.
Government shutdowns cost taxpayers money. The White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) official estimates of the 2013 government shutdown, which lasted just 16 days, found that $2.5 billion of pay and benefits were paid to furloughed employees for hours not worked.
A similar 2019 Senate report found that the government shutdowns in 2013, 2018, and 2019 cost taxpayers nearly $4 billion taken together.
With over $32 trillion in debt and $5.3 trillion spent so far this year, however, the Freedom Caucus may be risking a very low percentage of total federal costs in order to secure significant spending cuts in years to come.
So, while a shutdown wouldn’t be without cost, it would hardly spell the end for America.
Unchecked spending, however, unquestionably will.