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Congress gridlocked over debt limit: What happens if government shuts down?

If the federal government shuts down it wouldn’t be the first time. But the consequences of that could be devastating to healthcare, social safety nets, and the U.S. economy as it tries to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Congress is stuck after Senate Republicans blocked a House-approved bill to suspend the debt limit and avert a government shutdown. The government shutdown could happen later this week.

Funding for the government and countless programs is set to expire on September 30. An extension would keep it running through December 3. But, the existing debt limit suspension on the table now would extend it through December 16, 2022.

What actually happens if the federal government shuts down?

First off, it would be a partial government shut down. Not a full shut down. A partial shutdown would lead to hundreds of thousands of furloughed workers, and temporary closure of national parks and museums.

Perhaps the biggest issue would be funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Estimates indicate that approximately 62% of employees of the CDC would be impacted by government shutdown. Meaning upwards of 62% of the agency’s workforce furloughed if a deal isn’t reached in Congress.

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“The agency is certainly going to be operating at lower efficiency,” explained David Reich, a former congressional staffer now at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who spoke with Reuters.

Shutdown could also pause processing of firearms applications and passports.

What parts of government continue working if shutdown occurs?

Much of what happens in government at the federal level is automated. So, countless tasks – like processing social security checks – would continue uninterrupted.

Civilian jobs in the federal government would be impacted, but it would be decided on a case-by-case basis. Leaders in individual agencies would have the ability to pick-and-choose who is furloughed- and who is kept on-board during shutdown.

One challenge though would be getting those workers paid. They would receive pay after a deal is reached, but would have to go without until that occurs.



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