Published on The Washington Post, by Ed O’Keefe, February 17, 2011.
Updated 2:48 p.m. ET: If President Obama and congressional Republicans fail to agree soon on how to fund the final seven months of the fiscal year, some veterans might not receive benefits checks and other Americans would be unable to apply for Social Security. The State Department might not issue new passports, unemployment statistics would not publish as scheduled, museums and national parks would close, and worse — piles of elephant manure might pile up in a National Zoo parking lot because workers can’t ship it away for composting.
Budget disagreements between Bill Clinton and Republicans prompted these incidents in 1995 and 1996, as federal agencies halted operations and stopped paying workers.
Over the course of more than 20 days, about 260,000 District-area federal employees stayed home, or reported for duty only to be sent packing hours later. Security guards roamed the halls forcing out workers who lingered and some frustrated feds sought temporary jobs as bike messengers and waitresses in order to pay holiday bills, according to Post reports from the time.
Agencies retroactively paid workers once the doors reopened, but many government contractors — paid separately by private employers — earned nothing during the shutdowns.
Obama and congressional leaders must strike a deal by March 4 in order to keep the government running. Failure to pass a bill could cause an immediate stop to a wide range of federal services.
Depending on the proposal, the GOP is hoping to cut $60 billion to $100 billion, in an effort to trim the deficit and make good on a midterm election pledge to cut government spending. The White House has vowed to veto such plans. Numerous tea party groups have called on lawmakers to force a government shutdown, if necessary, but GOP leadership has vowed not to go that far.
“The government isn’t going to shut down,” Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the second-ranking Senate Republican, insisted Tuesday night. “Nobody is talking about shutting the government down.”
Actually, they are, according to sources. Federal agencies are beginning to instruct senior officials to prepare for a possible shutdown, ordering the cancellation of vacations or other personal commitments, said officials not authorized to speak on the record … (full text).