Executive branch prepares for government shutdown

Amanda Carey Contributor
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During the government shutdown of 1995, about 800,000 federal employees in the executive branch were sent home. According to a senior White House official, there is not yet an estimate on what that number will look like should Congress and the president not reach a spending agreement by the weekend, though it will likely be “in the same vicinity.”

Two changes since 1995 that will affect the number of employees affected by a shutdown include the fact that this time around, the Department of Veterans Affairs will remain open because it has multi-year funding, and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security will add to the number of employees prevented from going to work.

During a press call about preparations for a government shutdown in the executive branch, the official did say that the administration “anticipates significantly lower staffing levels at the White House and across all federal agencies.”

President Obama, however, will not be furloughed.

To clarify the confusion on military pay during a government shutdown, the White House official said that members of the armed services will continue to work and earn money, but because the government will not have the funds to pay them, paychecks will be issued only after a budget solution is reached.

Across the federal bureaucracy, essential operations will continue to function, but not much else. At the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), electronic filing will continue for those finishing their taxes.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, operations that are “essential for life and property” will continue, thought the official did not give any specifics on what falls into that category.

The Social Security Administration is still finalizing its plan should a shutdown occur, though current recipients will continue to get benefits. Medicare payments will continue for a time, as well. Most other activities through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will cease.

Other things under federal jurisdiction that will be forced to close include all national parks, the Smithsonian Institute, and most government websites. And for Washington, D.C residents, the annual cherry blossom parade scheduled for this weekend would not occur.

As for the Legislative and Judicial branches of government, the White House official said they will be following their own shutdown guidelines.

On Tuesday President Obama warned he would not sign another temporary spending measure if an agreement on the 2011 budget is not yet reached. The threat came after the president met with congressional leaders, in which House Speaker John Boehner proposed a new compromise of $40 billion in cuts.

At a press briefing after the meeting, Obama chided Republicans and argued that Democrats had made enough concessions on spending. “We don’t have time for games,” he said at one point.

“What we can’t do is have a ‘my way or the highway’ approach to this problem,” he added. “If we start applying that approach, where I’ve got to get 110 percent of everything I want or else I’m going to shut down the government, we’re not going to get anything done this year, and the American people are going to be the ones that suffer.”