How long do they have to settle this?
The current funding resolution expires at midnight on April 8. So a shutdown would start Saturday, April 9. Since very few federal employees work on weekends, Congress could stay in session trying to finalize the spending plan to avoid a large-scale disturbance Monday morning.
The White House and congressional leaders are working on a deal that would slash about $33 billion from the federal budget, including $10 billion already cut by two other short-term measures, amounting to the largest reductions in U.S. history.
Several tea party-backed Republicans continue to favor a House-passed measure that would cut $61 billion in spending. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) may turn to moderate Democrats to help pass the compromise in the House, but such a move could compel conservative Republicans to vote against it.
President Obama said Friday it “would be the height of irresponsibility” to force a government shutdown, and urged all sides to quickly strike a deal.
Why does Congress wait so long to pass the budget?
Under a budget law passed in 1974, the House and Senate are supposed to approve the 12 appropriation bills funding the federal government by Sept. 30, the last day of the fiscal year. It almost never happens.
In the past 16 years — 10 of which were controlled by Republicans, four by Democrats and two with mixed leadership in the chambers — Congress did not meet its statutory deadline for approving the spending bills.
Usually the House completes most of its work by late July, then watches as the slower-moving Senate tries to slog through the appropriations, resulting in stopgap resolutions that keep the government funded at the previous year’s spending levels until the two chambers strike a long-term deal.
Years when the party in power is politically vulnerable and on the verge of ouster tend to be the most difficult times. In 2002, on the brink of losing the majority, Senate Democrats could not approve anything except military funding. In 2006, with Republicans on the verge of losses, they also only approved military funding. And last year, on the verge of losing the House, Democrats failed to pass a single appropriation bill.
Now, the GOP majority in the House and the Democratic majority in the Senate are trying to clean up last year’s mess.
What’s the thinking on who’s going to get blamed?
Most Democrats believe the presidential bully-pulpit gives them the advantage if there is a shutdown. Former Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean said as much last week during a television interview.
This assumption is based largely on the shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, when GOP majorities on Capitol Hill earned the blame and then-President Bill Clinton benefited politically.
Rep. Paul C. Broun (R-Ga.) on Friday said Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) “orchestrated a plan” to shut down the government to make Republicans look bad.
However, a Washington Post-ABC News poll last month showed that the public would be evenly divided regarding responsibility for a shutdown. And some strategists in each party say a shutdown could be bad for both parties, especially among independent voters, who would see it as a mutually dysfunctional system.
Are shutdowns common?
Not in recent years. Six shutdowns occurred between fiscal 1977 and fiscal 1980. An additional nine occurred between fiscal 1981 and fiscal 1996. The most recent shutdown stretched from mid-December 1995 until early January 1996.
How long do shutdowns normally last?
Shutdowns in the 1970s and 1980s ranged from three days to 17 days, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). A five-day shutdown occurred in November 1995, and a shutdown stretching from mid-December 1995 to early January 1996 lasted 21 days — the longest in modern history.
If a shutdown occurs, what would stay open and who would have to work?
We won’t know for certain until it happens.
Federal agencies are drafting contingency plans to determine which functions would continue and who would keep working. But the Office of Management and Budget has ordered agencies not to publicly disclose details, frustrating many federal employees and federal worker union leaders who say the silence is causing confusion in the ranks.
If contingency plans are used, the agency would designate some personnel “essential” (or “emergency” and “excepted,” as OMB officially calls them) and others “non-essential” (or “non-excepted”).
According to the government’s official guidance on shutdown planning, agencies should continue any functions providing for national security, critical foreign relations and the safety of life and property.