Shutdown Threat Looms As Congress Battles Over Funding

BY JOE MARVILLI
Staff Writer

With just five days until the United States government’s fiscal year ends and it runs out of money, the threat of a government shutdown continues unabated.

The federal government’s fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. If Congress and President Barack Obama cannot come to an agreement on either a budget or a stopgap spending measure by that date, the government will shut down the next day, suspending all but the most essential services. While both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are looking to pass a financial continuing resolution, ideological differences have left the federal government in gridlock.

On Friday, Sept. 20, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed a stopgap funding bill that will defund the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s healthcare law. The House voted 230 to 189 to pass the measure, though the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate and the President have made it clear that the provision has no chance of passage.

The vote marked the 42nd time that Republicans in the House of Representatives have tried to defund or remove the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

As of press time, the Senate is working on sending back the continuing resolution that does not defund the healthcare law. If no agreement is reached, the government will shut down. In an example of how strongly some Republicans, particularly members of the Tea Party, feel about Obamacare, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) led a filibuster lasting more than 19 hours to prevent progress on the resolution from moving forward.

Cruz’s filibuster started Tuesday afternoon and continued through the night and into Wednesday, as the Texas Senator said he would continue until he dropped to protest the healthcare bill. Cruz has called on the Senate to not vote on a government funding bill that includes money for the healthcare act passed last year.

During a shutdown, the federal government would stop providing all but those services that deal with national security, critical foreign relations and the safety of life and property.

As such, services that would continue include utilities, the police, the fire department, the armed forces, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, air traffic management, the Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Border Patrol, Veterans Affairs doctors and the penal system.

If a shutdown does occur, at least 800,000 out of two million civilian federal employees would experience a furlough. A furlough is a temporary unpaid leave. Military personnel are not furloughed but their pay may not be on schedule.

There is also a question of non-essential government contracts that may be put on hold, affecting an unknown number of workers.

Every government shutdown is different, as federal agencies are working with the Office of Management and Budget to determine which functions would continue.

The closest example of what a shutdown today would look like is the U.S. government shutdown of 1995 and 1996, which lasted a total of 21 days over the holiday season. Major furloughs occurred in the Departments of Education, Veteran Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and the Social Security Administration. National museums and monuments shut down, resulting in an estimated loss of two million visitors. The National Park Service closed 368 sites, losing seven million visitors and $14.2 million per day in tourism revenue. Foreign visa and passport applications were not processed. Services for veterans, including health, welfare and finance, were restricted. First-time Medicare applicants were turned away.

During the Queens Tribune’s power breakfast forum, U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Melville) said that letting the government shut down due to ideological differences is an unworkable strategy.

“On that score, I just got my AmEx bill. I called AmEx and said ‘I will only pay this bill if I get a nice sewer line from my house to the sewer treatment plant and I’ve submitted to you a 10-page form on all of my ideologies. If you can satisfy all my ideologies, I then will pay my AmEx bill.’ It doesn’t work like that,” Israel said.

Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, jmarvilli@queenstribune.com, or @Joey788.