Understanding The Government Shutdown

Today’s government shutdown is marked in U.S. history.

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Below are questions and answers about the government shutdown:

WASHINGTON — It’s been 17 years since the federal government last faced a partial shutdown because Congress and the president couldn’t agree on a spending bill. A lot has changed in that time, leaving federal employees, citizens and even government decision-makers confused about what a shutdown would mean.

Every shutdown is different. The politics that cause them are different. Because of technology and structural overhauls, the way the government functions has changed since 1996. Much of what will happen is unknown.

Here’s what we do know about Tuesday’s looming shutdown:

THE BASICS

1. What causes a shutdown? Under the Constitution, Congress must pass laws to spend money. If Congress can’t agree on a spending bill — or if, in the case of the Clinton-era shutdowns, the president vetoes it — the government does not have the legal authority to spend money.

2. What’s a continuing resolution? Congress used to spend money by passing a budget first, then 12 separate appropriations bills. That process has broken down, and Congress uses a stopgap continuing resolution, or CR, that maintains spending at current levels for all or part of the year.

3. Why can’t Congress agree? The Republican-controlled House has passed a spending bill that maintains spending levels but does not provide funding to implement the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The Democratic Senate insists that the program be fully funded and that Congress pass what they call a “clean” CR.

4. What is a “clean” CR?A continuing resolution without policy changes.

5. Why is this happening now? The government runs on a fiscal year from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Shutdowns can happen at other times of the year when Congress passes a partial-year spending bill.

6. Could government agencies ignore the shutdown? Under a federal law known as the Anti-Deficiency Act, it can be a felony to spend taxpayer money without an appropriation from Congress.

7. When would a shutdown begin? When the fiscal year ends at midnight Monday. Most federal workers would report to work Tuesday, but unless they’re deemed “essential,” they would work no more than four hours on shutdown-related activities before being furloughed.

8. When would the shutdown end? Immediately after the president signs a spending bill. As a practical matter, it could be noon the following day before most government offices that were shut down would reopen their doors.

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