Would be the first shutdown in 17 years, ‘non-essential services’ would take a hit

The nation’s capital was gripped by uncertainty at the start of the week as Congress was on the brink of denying the Obama White House a critical line of financing, thereby pushing the federal government into across-the-board shutdown.

Widely considered to be a manifestation of the rigid stalemate that has paralysed lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the shutdown is set to kick in at 12.01 a.m. (9.31 a.m. IST) on Tuesday morning unless the Republican-controlled House relents on its demand that certain provisions of President Barack Obama’s landmark healthcare reform policy be defunded before they give government finances a new lease of life.

If the shutdown happens, hundreds of thousands of federal workers could be furloughed and only “essential services”, such as homeland security, mail delivery, air traffic control and welfare and federal court services, will continue. Non-essential services that may be indefinitely suspended include tax audits, loan processing by the housing authority, museums and national parks, and federal occupational health and safety inspections.

By Monday morning, there was little cause for optimism, as the House rejected a Senate budget proposal passed on Friday, which would have kept the government operational until November 15.

Over the weekend, the House, instead, passed a continuing resolution that would allocate funding until mid-December, but would also impose a one-year delay on key parts of Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act — a measure that Democrats reportedly called a “non-starter”.

Hours ahead of the deadline, the Democrat-dominated Senate is expected to “kill” the House’s latest resolution, and then pass a “clean bill” that will keep the government running sans any amendments to what is now popularly known as “Obamacare”.

Federal government shutdowns are not new to America. While there have been no fewer than 17 such closures in the past, all premised on the notion of financing blockades that made the provision of certain services impossible for a few months, this week’s would be the first shutdown in 17 years. Among the previous shutdowns, at least three were directly rooted in efforts by conservatives to reverse healthcare policies that included support for abortion services in the case of rape, incest or the mother’s life being in danger.

The potential impact of a shutdown was put into context by Stephen Fuller of George Mason University, who said to The Washington Post that in the national capital region, which has the largest concentration of federal workers and contractors in the country, there could be an estimated loss of $200million a day and more than 700,000 jobs may take a financial hit.