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What Happens If The Government Shuts Down?

9:45 AM, Sep 27, 2013   |    comments
Courtesy: Getty Images
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(CBS News) -- Congress is moving closer to passing a bill that to keep the government running, but it hasn't crossed the finish line yet.

The Senate should pass a bill to keep the government open for a few months on Friday, after taking a series of procedural votes -- including a vote to strip out language to defund Obamacare. At that point, it will go back to the House, where Republican leaders must decide whether to accept the legislation as it stands or amend it again. Whatever they decide, the Senate and House must come to an agreement on one bill before Tuesday, otherwise the federal government partially shuts down.

"I've made it clear now for months and month and months," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday. "We have no interest in seeing a government shutdown. But we've got to address the spending problems that we have in this town. And so there will be options available to us. There's not going to be any speculation about what we're going to do or not do until the Senate passes their bill."

If Congress fails to send President Obama a bill before Tuesday, the outcome would impact the economy, though not catastrophically. There have been brief gaps in government funding before, as well as two government shutdowns in 1995-1996 that stemmed from partisan budget battles similar to today's problems. The government shut down for five days in November 1995 when President Clinton and the GOP-led Congress were at odds over government spending, and it shut down again in December for 21 days. According to government estimates, those shutdowns cost taxpayers $1.4 billion.

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When there's a funding lapse, federal operations only partially shut down.

Programs deemed essential -- like air traffic control systems, Medicare, and food inspections -- would keep running. The U.S. Postal Service is self-funded, so operations would continue uninterrupted.

Still, millions of federal workers deemed non-essential would be furloughed with no guarantee of back-pay. Social Security checks and veterans' benefits would still go to recipients, but they could go out late, since there would be fewer workers to process them. Additionally, passport and visa applications could be put on hold, as well as small business and home mortgage lending programs. National parks and museums would be closed.

While monuments in Washington would be closed, the Capitol building would stay open. Congress is exempted from the furloughs, though some lawmakers could protest that rule.

Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., said in a statement Wednesday that if there is a funding lapse, he will not accept any pay for the duration of the shutdown and will donate any salary he receives to local charities.

"Michigan families work hard and when they don't go to work, they don't get paid, and the same should hold for Congress," he said. "When political gridlock undermines our economic uncertainty and makes it harder for Michigan middle class families and small businesses, it's not a game - it's bad faith."

When Congress came close to a shutdown in 2011, a number of lawmakers made the same pledge, including Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., as well as Reps. John Carney, D-Del., and Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md.

The bill to fund the government this time around has largely stalled because conservatives want to use the legislation to defund Obamacare. However, funding the most significant parts of Obamacare will effectively remain in place unless the entire law is repealed. Even if Congress fails to authorize spending by Oct. 1, the government has plenty of other sources of funding to draw from to keep the law in place. A large portion of the Affordable Care Act is funded with mandatory spending -- which Congress is required by law to keep up unless the law is repealed -- as well as multi-year funds still available in the event of a government shutdown.

"It appears that substantial ACA implementation might continue during a lapse in annual appropriations that resulted in a temporary government shutdown," the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said in a July report.

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