How Likely Is Another Government Shutdown?

Last year the government only narrowly avoided its second consecutive shutdown, and the shutdown in 2013 resulted in a major loss of funds and productivity. According to a report from the White House Office of Management and Budget, the furlough productivity loss alone tallied up to $2 billion, with a total of 6.6 million missed days of work over the 16-day partial shutdown, and total compensation costs, including benefits, around $2.5 billion.

This was only one way to measure cost, of course. There was also worker dissatisfaction, national frustration, and exacerbation of already tense relations in Washington with party gridlock, not to mention international marketplace concerns and fear that America might default on its debt.

If 2015 sees a shutdown, it will have its own costs, but so far it doesn’t look like national security will be one of them. But what will be? How likely is it that we’ll see another shut down this year? Let’s take a look at answers to the big questions on our budgetary future.

Why all the concern about the Department of Homeland Security?

With government shutdown threatening, funding will be cut off to many government departments and inhibit function of employees and federal bodies. President Barack Obama has drawn attention to DHS specifically in a speech recently, pointing out that without a budget, DHS workers will be forced to come to work without pay. He claims this will have both a negative economic effect and a national security impact. “I will keep on urging Congress to move past some of the habits of manufactured crises and self inflicted wounds that have so often bogged us down over the last five years,” said Obama in a speech to governors.

We’ve got one example of that right now: Unless Congress acts one week from now more than 100,000 DHS employees — border patrol, foreign inspectors, TSA agents — will show up to work without getting paid. Now, they all work in your states. These are folks, if they don’t have their paychecks are not going to be able to spend that money in your states it will have a direct impact on our economy and it will have a direct impact on America’s national security because their hard work helps to keep us safe.” He is right to an extent, but also arguably being overly dramatic. Furloughed workers usually are given back pay — sometimes overpaid as seen in 2013 — and so any state economic activity would probably only be temporarily delayed, hardly an economic crisis. As for national security, yes, the delay in pay is bad for moral and reduces manpower, which can have a negative effect. But the U.S. will not be in astronomical danger as a result. “As governors you know that we cannot afford to play politics with our national security,” said Obama.

While Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) refused to guarantee that the Department of Homeland Security would continue to have funds for basic functions, it seems very unlikely that it would actually shut down. Yes, some workers would likely be furloughed, but judging based on previous shutdowns, necessary workers would remain. 

How likely is a shutdown?

The answer to this question depends largely on who you ask and on what you’re looking at. On the one hand, it would not be in Congress’s best interest to allow another shutdown to take place. Given the majority held in both houses, it would be a political liability. But judging based on the time left — less than two weeks — and Republican’s rhetoric, the possibility is certainly very real.

Boehner was both vehemently irritated and entirely stolid on blaming Senate Democrats for the risk of shutdown, claiming, “The Senate Democrats are blocking the ability to even debate the bill Senator [Mitch] McConnell’s offered them an opportunity to offer amendments. It’s their turn, that’s the way the system works, that’s the way the constitution spells it out.” He reemphasized that “the house has acted, we’ve done our job,” and that “Senate Democrats are the ones putting us in this precarious position and it’s up to Senate Democrats to get their act together.” He really couldn’t be more clear about who he expects to see the next move from.

Many Republicans have made it clear that they don’t have any interest in actually debating a long-term budget in the Senate,” said a senior Democratic aide to The Huffington Post. “They just want to reopen the FY15 budget so they can hijack the process to play politics and use a vote-a-rama for partisan and campaign-related show votes.” In other words, Democrats are looking similarly frustrated. Later today, Democrats from the Congressional Budget Office will meet to discuss the budget. Obama is even more convinced of the imminence of a shutdown — probably good PR news if we’re being blunt — and has tweeted multiple times on the impending shutdown and its relation to immigration.

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