The government is headed toward a shutdown this weekend that would disrupt many government services, squeeze federal employees and roil politics. House Republicans, fueled by hard-right demands to slash budgets, are forcing a confrontation over federal spending.
While some government entities will be exempt — Social Security checks, for example, will still go out — other functions will be severely curtailed. Federal agencies will cease all actions deemed nonessential, and many of the federal government’s roughly 2 million employees, as well as 2 million active-duty military troops and reservists, won’t receive paychecks.
A look at what’s ahead if the government shuts down on Sunday.
What is a government shutdown?
A shutdown happens when Congress fails to pass some type of funding legislation that is signed into law by the president. Lawmakers are supposed to pass 12 different spending bills to fund agencies across the government, but the process is time-consuming. They often resort to passing a temporary extension, called a continuing resolution or CR, to allow the government to keep operating.
When no funding legislation is enacted, federal agencies must stop all nonessential work and will not send paychecks as long as the shutdown lasts.
Although employees deemed essential to public safety such as air traffic controllers and law enforcement officers still have to report to work, other federal employees are furloughed. Under a 2019 law, those workers are slated to receive backpay once the funding impasse is resolved.
When would a shutdown begin and how long would it last?
Government funding expires Sunday, Oct. 1, the start of the federal budget year. A shutdown will effectively begin at 12:01 a.m. Sunday if Congress is unable to pass a funding plan that the president signs into law.
It is impossible to predict how long a shutdown would last. The Democratic-held Senate and Republican-controlled House are working on vastly different plans to avert a shutdown, and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is struggling to win any support from hard-right conservatives to keep the government open.
Many are bracing for a stoppage that could last weeks.
Who does a shutdown affect?
Millions of federal workers face delayed paychecks when the government shuts down, including many of the roughly 2 million military personnel and more than 2 million civilian workers across the nation. For many workers, the first payday they would miss is Oct. 13.
Nearly 60% of federal workers are stationed in the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security.
While the military’s active-duty troops and reservists would continue to work, more than half of the Department of Defense’s civilian workforce — roughly 440,000 people — would be furloughed.
Across federal agencies, workers are stationed in all 50 states and have direct interaction with taxpayers — from Transportation Security Administration agents who operate security at airports to Postal Service workers who deliver mail.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has said new training for air traffic controllers will be halted and another 1,000 controllers in the midst of training will be furloughed. Even a shutdown that lasts a few days will mean the department won’t hit its hiring and staffing targets for next year, he said.
“Imagine the pressure that a controller is already under every time they take their position at work, and then imagine the added stress of coming to that job from a household with a family that can no longer count on that paycheck,” Buttigieg said.
Beyond federal workers, a shutdown could have far-reaching effects on government services. People applying for government services like clinical medical trials, firearm permits and passports could see delays.
Head Start programs serving more than 10,000 disadvantaged children would immediately lose federal funding
National parks will close on Monday, if the government enters a shutdown, and the National Park Service said its services won’t be available.
Some federal offices will also have to close or face shortened hours during a shutdown.
Businesses closely connected to the federal government, such as federal contractors or tourist services around national parks, could see disruptions and downturns. The travel sector could lose $140 million daily in a shutdown, according to the U.S. Travel Industry Association.
Lawmakers also warn that a shutdown could rattle financial markets. Goldman Sachs has estimated that a shutdown would reduce economic growth by 0.2% every week it lasted, but growth would then bounce back after the government reopens.
Others say the disruption in government services has far-reaching impacts because it shakes confidence in the government to fulfill its basic duties. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned, “A well-functioning economy requires a functioning government.”