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What Really Happens in a Shutdown?

by Countable | 1.19.18

Congress failed to pass a spending bill by midnight Friday, and so the federal government shut down. Will you still be able to get your mail? Visit a national park? Investigate a sitting president for possible collusion with a foreign power? Here’s what you need to know about a government shutdown:

What is a government shutdown?

The federal government receives most of its funding from Congress. A shutdown occurs when Congress and the president fail to sign into law a spending bill to keep the government running.

Who stops working?

Over 800,000 federal workers are obligated to stop showing up for work—something known as an "unpaid furlough."

Here are some of the major departments that shut down:

  • Environmental Protection Agency.

  • Food and Drug Administration.

  • Health and Human Services.

  • Internal Revenue Service.

  • NASA.

  • National Institute of Health.

Who continues working?

"Essential" employees, such as those in law enforcement and security, will continue working.

Do members of Congress and the president still get their paychecks?

A Congressional Research report answered this question:

"Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution forbids the salary of the President to be reduced while he or she is in office, thus effectively guaranteeing the President of compensation regardless of any shutdown action."

"Due to their constitutional responsibilities and a permanent appropriation for congressional pay, Members of Congress are not subject to furlough. Additionally, Article I, Section 6, of the Constitution states that Members of Congress ‘shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States.’"

Is the military affected?

The military gets paid on the 1st and 15th of every month.

The Department of Defense issued guidance Friday saying that if there’s a shutdown: "Military personnel on active duty, including reserve component personnel on Federal active duty, will continue to report for duty and carry out assigned duties."

Will airport security be even worse than usual?

Airports will remain open and air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration officials will stay on the job.

Amtrak will continue operating trains through the shutdown.

Can I still visit a national park?

During most shutdowns, no. This year, as the Washington Post explained, "Trump administration officials have made a precedent-setting decision to keep National Parks and public lands 'as accessible as possible’ in the event of a shutdown."

Will the Russia investigation continue?

Yes. Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller's investigation is funded by a permanent indefinite appropriation, not an annual Congressional appropriation.

Will I still get my mail?

Don’t fret. The Postal Service isn’t funded by Congress—your coupons to the local tire place will arrive as always.

Look, I was actually asking about my Social Security Benefits

Yes. You will continue to receive your Social Security Benefits.

And Domino’s coupons.

How long will a shutdown last?

Long as it takes. Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress need to reach a deal to fund the government.

The government shutdown of 2013 lasted 16 days.

What do you think?

Do you support the shutdown? Hit Take Action and tell your reps. And share your questions and comments below.

—Josh Herman

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(Photo Credit: CatLane / iStock)

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