Before dawn today the House approved a budget bill for the Fiscal year that actually started back in October 2010. It is important to keep this in mind: The House is working on the budget that should have been passed in the last congress. The government has been running on authority from a continuing resolution (CR), which kept all spending at levels appropriated in the fiscal year ending 9/30/2010. As soon as they are done finalizing the budget for the fiscal year we are in the middle of, they will start trying to agree on a budget for the coming fiscal year.
For the government to continue running, the Senate has to pass a bill, which must then be reconciled with the House bill by March 4. On that date, the current continuing resolution expires. Absent a budget or a new continuing resolution, the government will shut down. The bill approved this morning in the House has little chance of being approved by the Senate. All Democrats in the House and three Republicans voted against the bill. The Senate is controlled by Democrats who are likely to vote the way the Democrats in the House voted. But if they don’t, President Obama has already promised a veto of any bill hitting his desk resembling the House bill.
Yesterday, Nancy Pelosi introduced a bill to temporarily extend spending appropriations, saying,“In light of the hundreds of amendments to the Continuing Resolution, the President’s Day week-long recess and the need for the House to establish priorities and reconcile this legislation with the Senate by March 4, we are proposing a short-term extension of the current CR until March 31.”
On February 17, the Social Security Administration discussed with the press plans the agency is making in the event of a shutdown. For starters the government would start negotiating with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) to talk about employee furloughs during the shutdown. That’s a twist not many people in the press are talking about. If there is a shutdown will the 600,000 government employees represented by the union take to the streets the way that union workers in Wisconsin have been doing all week? AFGE represents employees in the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Justice. And they are one of the unions of the almost 15-million strong AFL-CIO.
So, now we’ve populated the streets of Washington with 600,000 federal union workers, and expanded into the streets of other American cities with 15-million AFL-CIO workers, but we still don’t know if Social Security checks will be in the mail. If they aren’t 60-million senior might be in the streets too. But, I digress.
I’ve read conflicting reports about what happens to Social Security checks in the event of a government shutdown. One says that the government can continue with “essential services,” and payments to America’s seniors are essential. Another says that payments, which have not been appropriated, may not be made (Antideficiency Act). So, are funds from the Social Security Trust Fund already appropriated? A September 2010 report by the Congressional Research Service to Congress says, “Programs that are funded by laws other than annual appropriations acts (e.g., entitlements like Social Security) also may be affected by a funding gap, if program execution relies on activities that receive annually appropriated funding.”
The report goes on to describe how money may be available to fund things like Social Security, but if the staff needed to process the payments is subject to annual appropriations, the payments may not be made-- because of lack of staff. In the 1996 government shutdown, about 5,000 employees were originally not furloughed in order to process payments. Social Security had to go back to congress and ask for almost 50,000 additional employees three days into the government shutdown and employee furlough, in order to process checks and new claims and things like address changes. Because of the debacle in 1996, government agencies are required to have written plans detailing how they would implement a government shutdown. It is unknown if these plans have been updated and/or are adequate to ensure that the nation’s seniors aren’t out in the cold protesting any shutdown.
House Votes to Cut $60-billion from 2010-2011 Budget
Who Are the Losers in a Government Shutdown?
American Federation of Government Employees
Unions of the AFL-CIO
September 2010 Report About What Happens in A Government Shutdown