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]
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