What happens if the government shuts down?

Image: The Capitol in Washington
The Capitol is seen in Washington, on Jan. 3, 2018. Copyright J. Scott Applewhite AP file
By Benjy Sarlin with NBC News
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The White House and Congress have yet to reach a deal on funding the federal government. Here's what what happens if they don't.

WASHINGTON — The White House and Congress have yet to reach a deal on funding the federal government, raising the prospect of a partial shutdown as early as this weekend. What happens if they don't? Here's what you need to know.

Why are we talking about a shutdown again?

The government is operating on a stopgap funding bill that passed on Dec. 21, which followed a separate stopgap bill that passed in September. But the current funding legislation expires on Saturday, and the White House and Congress are still at an impasse. The biggest dispute, though not the only one, is how to address the status of roughly 800,000 undocumented immigrants granted legal protection and work permits under President Obama that the Trump administration plans to revoke. Republicans control the House and Senate, but they need 60 votes in the Senate to pass a bill (there are only 51 Republicans) and may not have enough votes to pass a bill without Democrats in the House, thanks to conservative defections.

What happens if they don't find a deal?

Then we have a partial government shutdown. While funding expires on Saturday, you'd really start to notice the effects on Monday when hundreds of thousands of federal employees who are deemed non-essential don't show up to work. Without funding, the law requires them to be furloughed without pay. In 2013, the last time there was a shutdown, a peak of 850,000 federal workers per day were furloughed, according to the Congressional Research Service. Without workers, national parks will be closed along with various government offices, programs, and activities.

This whole process is a relatively recent phenomenon. The government used to keep more services up and running during funding gaps, but the Department of Justice decided in 1980 and 1981 that existing law demanded a more far-reaching shutdown if Congress failed to pass a spending bill.

Who'd be guarding the country?

Here's where the "partial" in partial government shutdown kicks in. Federal workers considered essential to national security and the safety of life and property would still have to show up and do their jobs. That includes the military, law enforcement officials, TSA screeners, doctors, and border patrol agents, among others.

Despite showing up for work, these excepted workers wouldn't get paid unless Congress somehow authorizes more funding. In 2013, Congress passed the Pay Our Military Act, which kept military paychecks going during the shutdown and also allowed hundreds of thousands of civilian defense workers to keep going to work and received pay as well. But that law was not permanent, and Congress would have to pass a similar bill this time if they want to pay the same federal employees and contractors during a shutdown.

What about government benefits?

Some services would still continue. Social Security, which has its own funding stream, will issue its usual checks. The mail will still be delivered. Medicare and Medicaid should still be able to pay out benefits. It's possible customer service and various administrative duties might be impacted by furloughed employees, however.

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