Anatomy of a Shutdown with No End in Sight

The White House hasn’t offered an estimate of the number of workers facing furlough. J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, placed the number at between 800,000 and one million. Half of the union’s members “may be locked out of work altogether during this shutdown,” Cox said, while the other half “will be expected to continue to work without a paycheck.”

“I have made crystal clear to the administration that federal employees have already sacrificed more than enough to these serial, manufactured budget crises,” Cox said. “After three years of frozen pay, unpaid furloughs, huge increases in retirement costs for new employees and the threat of massive layoffs at the Department of Defense and elsewhere, Congress and the administration need to keep their hands off of federal employees once and for all.”

Cox said the pay and benefits afforded federal workers “cannot be used again as a pointless gesture of goodwill, an olive branch, or bargaining chip to try to appease extremists.” The American Federation of Government Employees issued a statement asserting that “some politicians in Washington want a shutdown so they can make a political point. It’s immoral. And it makes a mockery of democracy and everything this country stands for.”

“The administration must keep its promise not to negotiate with bullies, to stand firm in opposition to each and every attempt to freeze pay, cut federal retirement, cut Social Security benefits or undermine health care of its own workforce,” Cox said.

So what happens when the government partially shuts down? Federal agencies began a process last Friday of informing employees whether they will be required to work or be furloughed. All employees are expected to show up for work on Tuesday, with those furloughed signing papers agreeing that they won’t participate in any activities dealing with their job for the duration. Those workers will be sent home after spending no more than four hours on site.

So-called “excepted” employees will continue to work. Federal law exempts workers in a small number of categories from furloughs – mostly those responsible for protecting public health, safety and property. White House employees responsible for aiding the president in carrying out his constitutional duties also are exempted.

Each agency is responsible for developing a plan of action based on information provided by the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management. All of the plans have been reviewed by the White House.

While large chunks of the government will be affected, some services remain available.

“If you’re on Social Security, you will keep receiving your checks,” Obama said. “If you’re on Medicare, your doctor will still see you. Everyone’s mail will still be delivered. And government operations related to national security or public safety will go on. Our troops will continue to serve with skill, honor, and courage.  Air traffic controllers, prison guards, those who are with border control -- our Border Patrol will remain on their posts, but their paychecks will be delayed until the government reopens. NASA will shut down almost entirely, but Mission Control will remain open to support the astronauts serving on the Space Station.”

At the same time, Obama said, the partial shutdown will have a devastating impact on some services.

“Office buildings would close,” he said. “Paychecks would be delayed. Vital services that seniors and veterans, women and children, businesses and our economy depend on would be hamstrung. Business owners would see delays in raising capital, seeking infrastructure permits, or rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy.  Veterans who’ve sacrificed for their country will find their support centers unstaffed. Tourists will find every one of America’s national parks and monuments, from Yosemite to the Smithsonian to the Statue of Liberty, immediately closed. And of course, the communities and small businesses that rely on these national treasures for their livelihoods will be out of customers and out of luck.”

At the Pentagon, officials maintain that active military personnel -- including those deployed to Afghanistan and on warships off the Syrian coast – will remain on duty. But about half of the Defense Department’s 800,000 civilian employees will likely be furloughed.

The FBI with its 16,000 agents will remain up and running, deemed an essential service. Most State Department employees likewise will remain on the job as a result of their diplomatic and security functions.

By the way, you still have to pay your taxes – all payments will be processed.

Ironically, Obama maintains the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, central to the partisan dispute, will go into effect Oct. 1 regardless of the federal government’s operational status.

“An important part of the Affordable Care Act takes effect tomorrow no matter what Congress decides to do today,” Obama said. “The Affordable Care Act is moving forward. That funding is already in place.  You can’t shut it down.”