FY2014 Shutdown Update: It's Anyone's Guess – UPDATE

FY2014 Shutdown Update: It's Anyone's Guess – UPDATE

UPDATE, September 27, 1:30 pm:   NASA’s plans in the event of a shutdown are now posted on the agency’s budget website.

ORIGINAL STORY, September 27: With just four days to go before the fiscal year changes from 2013 to 2014, the question of whether Congress will be able to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating is as up in the air as ever.

Government workers are to be told by the end of today whether they are “essential” or “non-essential” for shutdown purposes.  Essential employees must report for duty even though they may never be paid; non-essential employees are not allowed to work even if they want to.   Personnel who operate space-based systems — including the International Space Station — seem likely to make the grade as essential, and the shutdown does not affect Members of Congress or political appointees, but who else will be showing up for work on Tuesday morning absent a CR is still to be determined.

Even seasoned political pundits are hedging their bets on how this will turn out.  The Senate is expected to vote today on its version of CR that will delete a House-passed provision to defund the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  It may also fund the government at a higher level than the House-passed version and is likely to last only through November 15 rather than December 15.  

What the House will do with the Senate bill is the question.   The battle is being fought within the Republican party.  Many House Republicans including their leadership (Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eic Cantor) do not want a shutdown for fear it will hurt their chances to retain Republican control of the House in next year’s elections.  They have been trying to convince a small but key group of Tea Party Republicans who want to defund Obamacare to wage that fight on an upcoming debate over the debt limit rather than on this government funding bill, but so far without success.  

The government is expected to hit the debt limit in a few weeks and while emergency measures can prevent a default for a few more weeks, Congress must take action soon to raise or suspend the debt limit in order for the government to pay its bills.  The House leadership reportedly proposed a bill to suspend the debt limit in exchange for defunding Obamacare and other Republican priorities to its own Republican members yesterday, but it didn’t fly.

The Senate is expected to go home today after it passes its version of the CR leaving the House to work through the issues over the weekend and, presumably, send a bill back to the Senate on Monday, the last day of FY2013.    Among the options are that the bill could be a short term “clean” bill that simply keeps the government operating for a week or two while the debate continues, that it calls for a delay in implementing Obamacare instead of defunding it (with the defunding battle to be fought later),  that it restores the language the Senate is about to remove to defund Obamacare, or that there is no bill.   In either of the last two cases, a government shutdown is almost certain.

Although almost everyone refers to it as “a government shutdown,” it actually is a “partial” government shutdown.  As noted, some people are exempt and others will be deemed essential and expected to work without pay.  In the past, Congress has voted to pay those individuals retroactively, but there is no guarantee of that happening this time.

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