December 8, 2021

Nobody Panic, A Government Shutdown Won’t Shut You Down

Congress has until midnight Monday to pass a spending bill that appeases both sides of the aisle or the government faces a partial shutdown.

The government last closed shop almost two decades ago under former president Bill Clinton — it stretched for a total of 21 days. Usually, a shutdown runs for less than one week.

Some federal employees, those deemed non-essential, would not go to work. The President, presidential appointees, members of Congress and judges, for better or for worse, all continue per usual.

Nearly 800,000 federal employees went on furlough during the last shutdown, yet all were paid retroactively, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.

Museums, monuments and nearly 401 national parks would shut their doors to visitors.

According the associated press, there is also plenty of work that will continue regardless:


  • Prison guards, FBI agents and the Border Patrol will be at their posts.
  • Air traffic controllers and airport security screeners will keep planes moving.
  • The military’s 1.4 million active-duty personnel will stay on duty.
  • College students can relax: Student loans and Pell Grants aren’t affected.
  • Social Security payments and veteran’s benefits will go out. Food-stamp dollars should continue to flow.
  • Doctors will see Medicare and Medicaid patients; veteran’s hospitals stay open.
  • The National Weather Service will make forecasts and issue storm warnings.
  • NASA will man Mission Control in Houston to support the International Space Station and the two Americans among six people living aboard. But aside from that, only about 3 percent of NASA’s 18,000 workers will be on the job.
  • The White House will stay open. It’s exempted from the federal law that requires many government employees to stop working if congressionally approved funding for their jobs expires. Obama could still take his scheduled trip to Asia the week of Oct. 6, if he chose to.
  • The post office will keep delivering; its budget isn’t affected because it comes from selling stamps and delivering packages.
  • Workers in programs funded by user fees — such as immigration service employees who process green card applications and people who oversee truck and bus safety — also will stay on the job.


So what does the United States really have to lose? The GOP has already been tagged the scapegoat in the case of a government shutdown. The reality is, Americans would still rather see Obamacare stopped than the government funded:


Republicans have voted more than 40 times to defang the Affordable Care Act since it became law in 2010, and as it inches closer to implementation this position looks more and more like a winner to them. A suspicion among the insured that their coverage will suffer, uncertainty over what people will have to pay for their health insurance and a profusion of companies citing the new law as a reason for cutting the value of their employees’ health benefits have weakened support for the measure, which was never robust (see chart). A YouGov poll for The Economist found that a plurality of respondents now favours stopping Obamacare even if this causes a temporary government shutdown: 49% favoured repealing the law, compared with 36% who favoured expanding or preserving it.

Perhaps a partial shutdown is what it will take to make lawmakers listen to their constituents.