Government shutdown talks shift from ‘if’ to ‘how long?’
By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 30, 2013
WASHINGTON — As a government shutdown looms, some discussions in the nation’s capital shifted Monday from whether a last-minute deal can be reached to exactly how long and painful a partial shutdown would be for the country.
Over the weekend, House members approved a new budget plan that still includes a delay in implementation of the Affordable Care Act, a move that Senate leaders immediately labeled a step towards a shutdown crisis. The two chambers will likely trade barbs and legislation throughout the day Monday, with the federal budget set to run out at midnight.
The House also unanimously passed legislation which could keep paychecks flowing to troops and some Defense Department civilians even if a shutdown occurs.
The move would blunt one of the most politically unpalatable parts of an interruption in federal operations: the possibility that combat troops could be working without pay if the shutdown lasts more than a few days.
Pentagon officials have said that if a shutdown stretches beyond Oct. 7, it could affect processing for troops’ mid-month payroll.
The Senate will consider that measure late Monday. No such safety net legislation exists for veterans benefits, or for many of the other 800,000 federal workers expected to be furloughed as a result of the budget impasse.
Department of Veterans Affairs announced this weekend that disability benefits and GI Bill payouts could be stopped if a government shutdown stretches into late October.
On Friday, VA officials worked to assure veterans that all but a few minor programs would not be disrupted.
But in briefings to Congress the same day, planners said that appropriations for those checks is expected to run out by late October, creating financial distress for the hundreds of thousands of veterans depending on those funds.
“Under a prolonged shutdown, VA will be unable to make any payments,” the department said in a statement.
The last major government shutdown occurred in December 1995, and lasted 21 days. Congress has stared down potential shutdown threats numerous times in the last three years, but managed to find compromise before budgetary disaster occurs.
But it hasn’t been without consequence.
One of those compromises was the August 2011 sequestration plan, which trimmed federal spending by more than $1 trillion over 10 years. Lawmakers have railed against that since its passage, but failed to find a workable solution around the unpalatable cuts.
Credit agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. government’s rating as a result of the budget squabbles.
In addition to the current budget fight, Congress also faces a vote on increasing the nation’s debt ceiling later this month, a move that once again could jeopardize troops’ pay, veterans benefits and federal jobs.
Discussions on that issue so far haven’t progressed, since the deadline for that problem is still weeks -- and not hours -- away.