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7 myths about a federal government shutdown

By   /   September 30, 2013  /   News  /   3 Comments

Part 5 of 51 in the series Shutdown 2013
AP photo

STORMS COMING: Dark clouds hang over the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Saturday. A midnight Monday deadline is approaching for Congress to break an impasse over funding the government. In a rare weekend session, lawmakers from both parties urged one another to give ground in their fight over preventing a federal shutdown.

By M.D. Kittle | Watchdog.org

MADISON – Again, the United States stands on the brink of another federal government shutdown as its two major parties play their recurring game of fiscal chicken.

There’s been a lot of rhetoric about just what a government shutdown would mean to the nation at large and the average citizen in particular. A prolonged shutdown, economists tell Watchdog.org, would have a deleterious impact on an economy struggling to recover. But most of the so-called government shutdowns in the past, when Congress and the president failed to come to terms on a budget or continuing resolution, lasted but a few days. As one economist put it, a brief stall would have the impact of a “snow day” in Washington, D.C.

So let’s cut through the heated rhetoric, starting with the notion of what a government shutdown is.

Myth No. 1

All federal agencies would cease to operate under a government shutdown.

False. Many of the services we have come to expect would continue to function, particularly those deemed “essential.”

Myth No. 2

A government shutdown would stall Social Security payments.


“This shutdown would be similar to past shutdowns, which means Social Security checks will still come out, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) will still be at work certifying new drugs. All of the same protections will still be in place,” said Stephen Fuller, PhD, director of the Center for Regional Analysis, School of Public Policy, at George Mason University. And funding for Medicare and Medicaid is mandatory, so the entitlements are not subject to annual appropriations that lapse during a shutdown.

Health care fraud-fighting initiatives, however, would take a hit, for instance. “CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) would be unable to continue discretionary funding for health care fraud and abuse strike force teams resulting in the cessation of their operations,” warns the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Myth No. 3

A shutdown would cripple military operations and leave the United States vulnerable to attack.  


America’s approximately 1.4 million active duty personnel would remain at their posts, and there are legislative promises that all would be paid on time. A House measure passed Saturday would ensure as much.

Nearly half of the military’s civilian personnel could face furloughs, however. The big hit would come to federal contractors. Fuller said federal inspectors would be pulled off government contract sites, and that effectively would shut down those projects. It’s important to note that federal agencies, in accordance with the U.S. Constitution, cannot spend taxpayer money without a congressional appropriation.

By the way, all of the vital functions of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would continue to function, and the National Security Agency would remain ever vigilant in watching whoever it is the agency deems important to watch.

Myth No. 4.

A shutdown would cost all federal government employees their jobs?


But as much as 40 percent of the civilian federal work force, or more than 800,000 employees, could see their jobs on hold, in areas ranging from workplace safety inspection to national parks and museums, Fuller said.

Myth No. 5

Shutting down the government means I don’t have to pay taxes.


The Internal Revenue Service would still be demanding – and collecting – its share of your hard-earned cash.

Myth No. 6

A showdown would delay implementation of Obamacare.


Enrollment in the federal and state health care exchanges through the Affordable Care Act begins Oct. 1. Benefits and services don’t become effective until Jan. 1, 2014. “You can still register online,” Fuller said. “I don’t know that this will have any impact on that at all, unless Congress agrees to a delay.”

State and federal exchanges would be able to operate in the event of a government shutdown.

Myth No. 7

The United States would default on its bills if Congress doesn’t deal with the federal debt ceiling by Oct. 17


In his latest fundraising plea, President Barack Obama declares “House Republicans are threatening to shut down the government and potentially default on our bills for the first time in history – because they want to sabotage the Affordable Care Act.”

The notion of U.S. default couldn’t be farther from the truth, said Thomas Campbell, dean of Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law in Orange, Calif. Campbell, a former member of Congress and member of President Ronald Reagan’s administration when the federal government shut down in 1981, says failure to boost the debt ceiling would mean the federal government simply cannot borrow more money.

“It might stop paying Medicaid to states, or housing assistance or student loans, but if you have a bond or contract with the federal government you will be paid,” he told Watchdog.org.

Campbell, who served in Congress in 1995-96, during the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, predicts Congress and the president will come to terms shortly on a deal that keeps the government functioning short-term until they can break through the stalemate.

“Every previous shutdown or cycle in which there has been a shutdown threat, there has been a one-week or 10-day extension,” he said. “I think that is cause for taking things a little more calmly.”

Contact M.D. Kittle at [email protected]

Part of 51 in the series Shutdown 2013
  1. Shutdown plan: Virginia will carry federally funded state workers until Oct. 4
  2. OKC National Memorial and Museum will stay open regardless of federal shutdown
  3. TN rep equates looming government shutdown with hostage crisis
  4. Government shutdown won’t shut down NSA spying
  5. 7 myths about a federal government shutdown
  6. Obamacare goes full-speed ahead as military pay enters uncharted waters
  7. Shutdown sparks New Jersey confusion about Obamacare
  8. Federal shutdown could furlough 57,000 Virginians
  9. ‘Business as usual’ for PA state government as feds prepare for shutdown
  10. Union plans rally as MN braces for federal shutdown
  11. Only government you don’t know about could go away in Illinois
  12. Shutdown? NM seems OK on the state level, but federal workers will feel the pinch
  13. WI congressional delegation soldiers on in Obamacare-shutdown battle
  14. Shutdown? What shutdown? States will carry on despite impasse in Washington
  15. McAuliffe tries to ride shutdown to victory in November
  16. NM delegation on gov’t shutdown: It’s the other side’s fault
  17. Panda Cam goes dark as government shutdown cripples cute
  18. U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin: I’m shutting down, too
  19. Missouri’s Wagner declines congressional pay during shutdown
  20. GIs take first battle of government shutdown
  21. The horror: Shutdown delays pro-Obamacare video contest
  22. Obamacare device tax ‘devastating’ to TN manufacturers
  23. Did The New Republic call for Obama to dissolve Congress?
  24. 4 reasons to cross the Potomac during the shutdown
  25. Are furloughed park employees trying to pick a fight on Facebook?
  26. Shutdown is ‘boom time’ for political fundraising
  27. Sorry Yogi: Reid calls move to open parks a ‘wacky idea’
  28. World War II vets 90, government shutdown 0
  29. Shutdown shouldn’t alter NM oil and gas bottom line
  30. FL tourism industry is magic, shutdown or not
  31. Fed shutdown leaves Americans stranded abroad
  32. Government shutdown brings relief to Main Street
  33. GOP’s Johanns: People mad, feel ‘duped’ into believing government shutdown would stop ObamaCare
  34. Chris Matthews’ weak grasp of government shutdown history
  35. U.S. senator turns total shutdown into partial shutdown
  36. Fed shutdown grounds plan to airdrop possibly harmful substance on TN land
  37. Ohio vets ready to storm World War II Memorial
  38. Some states battling with feds to keep parks, landmarks open during shutdown
  39. Federal tourist blockades called ‘vindictive’ in Virginia
  40. Veterans’ day: Ohio vets conquer World War II Memorial during government shutdown
  41. E-Verify: Is Obama happy to see right-to-work database go?
  42. Two battlefields raise the question: Who maintains Civil War sites?
  43. Contradictions abound in federal shutdown policy
  44. Park Service losing $76 million a day in shutdown
  45. Nebraska federal judge tells Congress to ‘go to hell’
  46. Shutdown renews call to move western forests, parks under state control
  47. How to make NM less vulnerable to federal gov’t shutdowns
  48. Are senators playing selective service in shutdown politics?
  49. Double dipping: Shutdown means double pay for Oregon federal workers
  50. No double dipping for furloughed federal workers in Virginia
  51. Not so fast: Federal workers in Wisconsin must repay unemployment benefits


M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.

  • Dan Journeaux

    myth 1 all services will be considerably slower as most employees are not considered essential directors and program leads maybe but most programs will suffer

  • Jay

    I’ve been seeing all sorts of percentages of those being furloughed thrown about and have finally figured out my take. Using the 800,000 number as the number of furloughs:
    Percentage of civilion federal workers: 800K/2.85M = 28%
    Percentage of all federal workers (includes uniformed): 800K/4.40M =18.2%
    Percentage of all government workers (state, local, federal): 800K/22.2M = 3.6%
    Where does the 40% figure come from?
    Source: http://www2.census.gov/govs/apes/2011_summary_report.pdf and http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/data-analysis-documentation/federal-employment-reports/historical-tables/total-government-employment-since-1962/

  • Great! I have copied the whole article into my blog (with on the page Microsoft Translator.) Translations are not perfect but good enough to understand in Dutch, French, German and Italian, whom I checked) Funny enough, “False” is translated in all languages in something like “the value is negative”. Perhaps the use of “Wrong” will be better next time. At least, wrong is translated correctly by MS Translator. 🙂