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This Is Uncomfortable
Federal Budget

Government facing possible shutdown March 4

John Dimsdale Feb 22, 2011
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Kai Ryssdal: There’s not a whole lot of collective bargaining going on in Washington D.C. In fact, there’s not much bargaining going on at all. And that’s making a federal government shutdown look more likely by the day.

Democrats and Republicans are miles apart over a funding plan to keep the government running through early April, let alone finding a way to pay for things through the rest of the fiscal year this fall. The current authorization expires a week from Friday.

Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale reports.


John Dimsdale: After the 1995 government shutdown, agencies put together contingency plans. So they should be more prepared, says New York University government professor Paul Light.

Paul Light: They’re getting ready to the extent they can. In the Forest Service, the Park Service, what they’re getting ready are the chains and the padlocks to close the gates.

Agencies first decide what emergency jobs won’t be furloughed when the government closes down. That creates some strange inequities, says Donald Kettl at the University of Maryland.

Donald Kettl: The FBI will still be going out trying to catch bad guys. The crucial Middle East desks at the State Department will continue to stay open. On the other hand, the people at the Centers for Disease Control that monitor whether or not the flu is spreading may not be at work.

Kettl says most non-essential government services are routine — processing passport applications at the State Department, for example. Or investigating corporate wrongdoing at the Securities and Exchange Commission. You can’t prepare for an interruption; you just turn out the lights and close the door. What’s always a surprise, says Kettl, is coming back when the shutdown is over.

Kettl: ‘Wow, where did all that paper come from?’ It’s a matter of trying to sort through what the priorities are. What’s most important to get the government back in business again.

Shutdowns mean non-emergency employees are furloughed without pay, although they get back pay eventually. Maybe not this time, says Light.

Light: It will save money if you keep them out for a week or two weeks, and that’s one way to cut the deficit, albeit by a very small margin.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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