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September 24, 2013

2
P.M.

Government shutdown Q&A

Total Responses: 58

About the hosts

About the host

Host: Aaron Blake

Aaron Blake

Aaron Blake covers national politics at the Washington Post, where he writes regularly for the Fix, the Post's top political blog. A Minnesota native and graduate of the University of Minnesota, Aaron has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and The Hill newspaper. Aaron and his wife, Danielle, and dog, Mauer, live in Northern Virginia.
Host: Joe Davidson

Joe Davidson

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.
Host: Lisa Rein

Lisa Rein

Lisa Rein covers the federal workforce and issues that concern the management of government. At the Post, she has written about state politics and government in Annapolis, Md. and Richmond, Va., local government in Fairfax County, Va. and the redevelopment of Washington and its neighborhoods.
Host: Mike DeBonis

Mike DeBonis

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays. DeBonis joined in Post in 2010 after spending six years at Washington City Paper as a reporter and editor, including three years writing a column on District politics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and a native of Northwest Indiana.

About the topic

Reporters answered questions about a potential government shutdown, the politics of the budget battle and the impact on federal agencies and the D.C. area.

Jump to discussions of:

- The politics of a shutdown (from 9/24)

- How federal agencies are preparing (from 9/25)

- The local impact (from 9/26)

Q.

Aaron Blake :

Thanks for joining us. A quick note on how this chat will work before we get started:

Over the next several days, WaPo reporters will be dropping in here to answer all your questions about a possible government shutdown. You can submit questions 24/7 using the "Submit Your Question" link at the top of the page. 

Answers will appear below this message in chronological order. Scroll to the bottom of the page to see the newest responses.

We won't be able to answer every single question that comes in, but we'll do our best to get to as many as possible.

Since this is "Ask Aaron," I'll be kicking things off and focusing on the politics of a possible shutdown.

Q.

Shutdown and retroactive pay

Only 2 questions matter. Scale of 1-10, with 1 being less likely. 1. Chances of shutdown. 2. Chances Congress will authorize pay retroactively.
A.
Aaron Blake :

1. 40% (and I'm lower on that than a lot of other people)

2. 80% (they did this in the last shutdown, after all, and not paying military members would be terrible politics)

– September 24, 2013 2:01 PM
Q.

Gov Shutdown

After sequestration came and went, and the world didn't end, is there a sense that the public is not concerned about a shutdown? That it won't have a big impact on everyday lives...
A.
Aaron Blake :

I do think that the sequester experience has made people a lot less scared about this.

You'll also recall that we technically went off the fiscal cliff on New Year's Day (at least for a few hours).

I think people think we (the media) and politicians hype this stuff too much, and perhaps they're right. But while Republicans had said all along that the sequester wouldn't be so bad, both sides pretty much agree that a shutdown would be bad. And polls show Americans think this is worse than the sequester was.

That said, would a few days of a shutdown be a game-changer? Maybe not.

– September 24, 2013 2:01 PM
Q.

Pew Poll

Showed 39% would blame the GOP and 36% would blame the president. I'm surprised it was that close, since most of the coverage has reflected poorly on the Ted Cruz's of the world.
A.
Aaron Blake :

Here's the poll: http://wapo.st/16Uv742

I think the poll is just a reflection of the broader polarization in this country. There are 40-45% who will line up with either side on any given issue where there is a modicum of credibility to either side's argument.

I also think the polling may change after the shutdown actually takes place -- though we should note that it stayed steady before and after the 1995 shutdown, when Republicans got the lion's share of the blame.

– September 24, 2013 2:03 PM
Q.

Boehner legacy

Newt has 3 things people remember: 1) his exit, 2) Contract for America, and 3) the government shutdown. Boehner doesn't have anything close to 2). Why would he want such a black mark next to his name?
A.
Aaron Blake :

This is the x-factor in all of this. And I tend to think that Boehner would allow a vote (in violation of the Hastert Rule) on a so-called "clean budget" that funds Obamacare if it came down to it. But in order to do that, he would need to first make sure the votes are there to pass it.

That's why I put the odds of a shutdown at 40% and not higher.

Either way, it's not a great situation to be John Boehner.

– September 24, 2013 2:05 PM
Q.

Opposite of Cruz

Is there any Republican -- in the House or Senate -- who would benefit from forging a "dealmaker" reputation?

A.
Aaron Blake :

About the only one with a national profile and presidential hopes that has been carving out this middle-ground profile is Chris Christie, but he's not in Congress.

I just think it's such a risky strategy, because the most vocal elements of the party are demanding purity these days. Polls show Republicans are split on the compromise vs. "stick to your principles" question, but the activists are very much in the latter camp, and that's why we see leaders trending in that direction.

– September 24, 2013 2:08 PM
Q.

Paying Military Members

In your answer to the first question, you implied that military personnel may not get paid, or would be paid retroactively by an act of Congress. Military personnel will get paid as they will be expected to work. The only issue is when they will get paid based on the length of any Government shutdown. Do you agree? If you believe there is a chance that military personnel will not be paid for working, what do you base your answer on?
A.
Aaron Blake :

This is a good point. I think the questioner was referring to other (non-military) government employees. 

In that case, it's not quite as clear. We may still see some Republicans resist retroactive pay. But, again, think that this is just really bad PR any way you slice it.

– September 24, 2013 2:10 PM
Q.

Turnout

I don't think shutting down the government would fire up Republicans because they're already motivated, but I think it could only hurt Republicans. There are older voters who might not get checks. Otherwise unmotivated, angry Dems and independents might be moved to vote in the midterms. Am I missing something?
A.
Aaron Blake :

Nope. That's about the size of it. But your assertions assume that Republicans get the blame for it.

Their argument is that, 'Hey, if Senate Democrats just passed the House's budget, there would be no shutdown.'

Whether that's actually a winnable argument is up for debate. I think it's a tough case to make. But polls for now suggest that Americans are very much split on who would be to blame.

What makes me think Republicans will get more blame is that they are generally seen as less willing to compromise. Through that lense, it seems likely more people would wind up blaming them. But it hasn't happened yet.

– September 24, 2013 2:14 PM
Q.

How long?

How long will the shutdown be for?

A.
Aaron Blake :

It could never happen. It could last a few hours or a couple days. It could last much longer.

It depends on when Congress is able to come to an agreement on something that funds the government. Until that's done, it's shut down, as of Oct. 1.

– September 24, 2013 2:15 PM
Q.

Rand Paul

What does he think of the shutdown? It looks like he is not advocating too much, it might hurt him in 2016.

A.
Aaron Blake :

Paul was one of the early supporters of the Defund Obamacare effort, but he has certainly not put himself out there as much as Ted Cruz, for example.

That's unusual for Paul, who is pretty much willing to go to bat for what he believes in and doesn't mince words. I think he recognizes the difficult odds that this effort faces, and he'd rather Cruz bear the brunt of a failure.

For now, it seems to be a smart move, since Cruz is getting criticized by other Republicans.

– September 24, 2013 2:17 PM
Q.

Is there any Republican -- in the House or Senate -- who would benefit from forging a "dealmaker" reputation?

Paul Ryan? Peter King? Pat Toomey?
A.
Aaron Blake :

If anyone, I think it would be Paul Ryan. But he's had the chance to do it with the immigration debate, and he's stayed largely behind-the-scenes. I'm not sure he's comfortable taking on that role yet.

– September 24, 2013 2:19 PM
Q.

We may still see some Republicans resist retroactive pay

Even if they're running for reelection in Nov. '14? Can't you just envision the Democratic campaign ads now?
A.
Aaron Blake :

Right. I'm talking about a (probably) narrow group of Republicans who might balk at the idea of retroactive pay.

– September 24, 2013 2:21 PM
Q.

Virginia Gov and Shutdown

Is there any Republican in America who wants a shutdown less than Ken Cuccinelli? Apparently Northern VA relies heavily on the federal gov operating.
A.
Aaron Blake :

Good point. It was very interesting to see Gov. McDonnell speak out against a potential shutdown this morning on WTOP.

And the one Republican to vote against the Defund Obamacare bill in the House was Virginia's Scott Rigell. There's a reason for that.

I tend to think governor's races are decided more on state issues, but this would be hard for Virginia voters to ignore, given a huge percentage of them are government employees.

– September 24, 2013 2:23 PM
Q.

Length of possible Gov't shutdown

If congress does not work this out before the end of the Fiscal Year. How long will the shutdown last or what is Congress' timeline to resolve this?

A.
Aaron Blake :

All of your questions can be answered in one great primer from The Fix's Sean Sullivan. I encourage everyone to check it out.

And here's Wonkblog on what would happen after the shutdown starts.

– September 24, 2013 2:27 PM
Q.

Debt Limit

Perry v. United States (1935) found voiding a United States government bond "went beyond the congressional power." The debt limit law provides the Congress the opportunity to do just that. The law contains no separability clause excluding bonds. Why isn't the entire law struck down as illegal?
A.
Aaron Blake :

There has been plenty of talk about how President Obama could simply raise the debt ceiling unilaterally, but the White House hasn't taken those arguments seriously.

More on that here: http://wapo.st/16XxaEA

However, if it's a choice between that and a default, maybe the White House takes another look...

– September 24, 2013 2:30 PM
Q.

Cynical thought

How likely do you think it is that Republicans are letting Ted Cruz run with this so he can ultimately have enough rope with which to hang himself?

A.
Aaron Blake :

It's no secret that Cruz isn't the most popular guy in Congress -- and I'm not just talking about people who disagree with him on political issues (McCain, etc.).

I think there is a bit of schadenfreude at work here. But I don't think that's the reason the House went along with all this and passing a Defund Obamacare budget. I think they did it because they saw it as their only option -- to give this thing a chance to work itself out.

– September 24, 2013 2:34 PM
Q.

Air Travel

How will the shutdown affect air travel, if indeed we do get the shutdown? Air traffic controllers, Security checks, etc?
A.
Aaron Blake :

These employees are considered "essential" and would continue to work during the shutdown.

More here from Brad Plumer: http://wapo.st/1bDUqLk

– September 24, 2013 2:35 PM
Q.

recruiting and retaining Feds

Way too many of my 8 years as a fed have been filled with shutdown rumors, worries, and furloughs. I know I and many other young, dedicated public employees are looking for non-government work. At what point is Congress hurting long term federal productivity with this uncertainty? Shouldn't they worry about recruiting and retaining the best for the future? If so, how do they justify these uncertainties?
A.
Aaron Blake :

A good point. Government workers already generally deal with lower pay than their private-sector colleagues.

I think the argument that members of Congress would make is that they are not creating uncertainty for the sake of uncertainty, but rather because they have deep philosophical disagreements.

I don't think anybody on either side actually WANTS a shutdown. They just totally disagree on how to fund the government.

– September 24, 2013 2:38 PM
Q.

The real question is...

...with DC government funding being subject to Congressional appropriations, will a government shutdown mean a break from parking tickets?
A.
Aaron Blake :

In 2011, the DC government said it would not issue routine parking tickets during the shutdown, but would issue tickets for safety violations like parking in front of a fire hydrant.

More here: http://bit.ly/1b9Sv1U

– September 24, 2013 2:40 PM
Q.

Cantor

Is Cantor on board with Boehner? He is from VA but wouldn't he want to distinguish himself with Boehner so he can succeed him as Speaker?
A.
Aaron Blake :

Option 3 is to stay out of it entirely, let Boehner take the flack and hope it's enough to lure him to retire. (How's that for cynicism?)

– September 24, 2013 2:42 PM
Q.

"Essential Employees"

Members of Congress are not included correct (I'm being serious)?
A.
Aaron Blake :

I'm not sure they meet that definition, but they definitely continue to get paid and (ostensibly) would continue working to try and hammer out a deal.

– September 24, 2013 2:44 PM
Q.

Debt ceiling

I heard that the only two countries with debt ceilings are the US and Denmark. I was surprised that as economically cautious a nation as Germany doesn't have one. How do other countries manage?
A.
Aaron Blake :

You are correct on that. Here's more from our Wonkblog team.

– September 24, 2013 2:47 PM
Q.

Aaron Blake :

Thanks everyone for joining us on today's chat.

Don't forget, you can continue submitting your questions 24/7. Each day we'll have reporters and experts dropping in here to answer the questions that have been submitted. So keep asking questions, and stay tuned for more answers on Wednesday!

The next round of live answers starts Wednesday at 12:30 p.m.

Q.

Lisa Rein :

Hello Readers!

This is Lisa Rein. I cover the federal workforce and agencies for the Post. I'm here with my colleague Joe Davidson, who writes the Federal Diary column, to answer your questions as best we can about a government shutdown,  which may or may not happen in five days. We do know that agencies are kicking their contingency planning into high gear. Thank you all for joining us

Q.

October 1

I haven't seen this question answered in any of the stuff that I've been reading. If you are not deemed excepted and you won't be working during the shutdown, will you be paid for the time you're expected to come in on Oct. 1 to close things up? I'd guess that Congress is unlikely to get their act together and pay us for any of the rest of the time, but since you'll technically have worked those couple of hours can you expect that you'll be compensated?
A.
Lisa Rein :

 Thanks for asking this. We did a story on this yesterday but basically Congress has to make the decision on back pay for feds who were sent home. In the shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, a Republican Congress did vote to make those folks whole. But it is not clear what would happen this time around. many conservatives might balk at this.

– September 25, 2013 12:36 PM
Q.

Flexiplace

In an era of flexiplace, will people declared essential and required to work be allowed to work from home?
A.
Lisa Rein :

My understanding is yes, telework would continue for essential employees--but I'm really glad you asked that question. I need to clarify this for future stories. My colleague Joe might know the answer

– September 25, 2013 12:38 PM
Q.

Shutdown and Furlough

Shutdown is until they pass a continuing resolution or 2014 Budget? One? Both? Also, just because they shut down, doesn't mean the cutbacks for 2014 won't take place. I imagine the sequestor is going to require Furloughs as well. Am I correct in that thinking.
A.
Lisa Rein :

Right now, Congress is debating a bill that would fund the government just through mid December. But yes-a potential shutdown would end when a CR or a real appropriation passes. It's possible Congress could pass some appropriations bills funding certain agencies on a piecemeal basis, which would mean those employees would return to work. As far as the sequester is concerned, how significant it would be and what flexibility if any agencies would have in implementing it in the next phase would depend on what Congress negotiates. Furloughs are not a given, but both furloughs and RIFs have been raised by agencies, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

– September 25, 2013 12:43 PM
Q.

Travel???

I've got a sight-seeing weekend booked in DC in mid-October! Should I pull the 'chute?? Maybe get Red Sox tickets.
A.
Lisa Rein :

I wouldn't pull the plug on your trip yet. You'll know by Tuesday morning if there is a shutdown. Unfortunately, you wont know how long it is likely to last. Seems unlikely the government would be closed for that length of time.. Although--this did happen back in 1996, when a shutdown lasted 21 days. But I still would not cancel your plans!

– September 25, 2013 12:45 PM
Q.

washington DC

i'm terrified of a government shutdown, should we take our things home?
A.
Lisa Rein :

Joe Davidson, here, sorry to be joining the discussion late. I had technical difficulties.

I don't think feds need to take things home, certainly not yet. There's a decent chance the shutdown will not happen and if it does it might short.

– September 25, 2013 12:47 PM
Q.

legal process

What laws govern the shutdown? How has it been decided what stays open? Under what circumstances were those rules set? - Phil Gardner - Harvard
A.
Lisa Rein :

Hi Phil, so, the government has shutdown multiple times since the 1970s and there is ample law set by the Offfice of Management and Budget on which functions of government are deemed essential and which non essential. This really hasn't changed over the years, although of course we have agencies today we didn't have back then (like TSA, for example). So basically, federal functions that protect national security, public safety and welfare are essential and continue.  There's a long list of stuff. Federal prisons stay open, meat and p0ultry inspections continue. Parks close. etc

– September 25, 2013 12:50 PM
Q.

Costs to Shutdown

There seems to be little discussion of just how costly a shutdown would be. All of the planning agencies would have to do--as they did with sequestration--to prepare diverts them from the work we taxpayers are paying for. There are lots of other potential costs. Sequestration will in the long run cost more than it saves at least in part by undoing the damage that supposedly isn't happening. Is it not newsworthy?
A.
Lisa Rein :

Back during the 21-day shutdown of 1996, the White House estimated that the shutdown cost was $1.4 billion. That was mostly to cover back pay for federal employees who were sent home. It also covered other costs to agencies. Unfortunately, no one has gotten a good figure on what the costs would be in 2013. It's true that more government functions are automated. I'm n ot sure whether that would reduce the shutdown costs or not. 

– September 25, 2013 12:53 PM
Q.

Retroactive Pay

We all understand that Federal employees dont have anything to do with the impending shutdown, but why do so many people seem to think they should get paid for shutdown days when they didnt work. If they dont come to work they didnt earn their pay. They should be allowed to use vacation days to re-coup the salary though, since they would be off during that time.
A.
Lisa Rein :

I don't think federal workers would be allowed to use vacation days to substitute for the lost days.  One one hand, there are certainly many people , especially conservatives Republicans in Congress, who agree with you. On the other hand, as you said--it is certainly not the employee's fault if he or she is furloughed because of Congress' inability to gets its work done on time. That's been the view of past Congresses. We'll see what happens in this Congress if we get to that point. 

– September 25, 2013 12:55 PM
Q.

Tipping Point for Public Outrage

If there is a government shutdown, what do you think will be the shutdown tipping point that will mobilize general public outrage (outside of the DC Metro area of course) and force either a compromise or a relent by one side? If the latter, which side do you think it will be?
A.
Joe Davidson :

It's hard to say because some services, such as Social Security checks will continue to be issued, meaning the impact on individuals will vary. If a total shutdown were to occur, which is not about to happen now, then I think the tipping point would come quickly.

– September 25, 2013 12:55 PM
Q.

End of Shutdown

Say a govt shutdown happens (likely). What would convince the House GOP during the shutdown that it needs to end (it seems unlikely that public polling would be the answer) and it also seems unlikely that members of the House GOP would start hearing from their constituents that they want it to end?
A.
Lisa Rein :

There is definitely a view out there that a shutdown would be bad for both parties. There's another view that it would turn to the Democrats' advantage. And as you know, there are voters in many conservative Republican districts who would welcome a shutdown, since they feel government is too big and inefficient. We'll only know how the optics play out if and when this happens. But you can be sure the Obama administration will blame this on the GOP; maybe that will be enough to turn the tide. But for a shutdown to end, it will require both sides to compromise. 

– September 25, 2013 12:59 PM
Q.

Logistical question

Thanks for taking questions. I work for an agency, and I'm scheduled to travel just before the shutdown. The first few days i will take personal days, then have work meetings. Apparently in the past the guidance provided has been that travelers must return home on the next possible flight. Would this apply during my personal days, when I am not incurring any cost for the government? I would hate to fly home during this time, just to turn around and fly back if the shutdown ended (and thus have to buy another ticket). Thanks!
A.
Joe Davidson :

OMB guidance says "agencies should make a determination of reasonableness and practicality based on the length ofthe assignment and the time required for return travel, compared to the anticipated length ofthe lapse, so as to minimize the burdens of doing so." I'd suggest you speak with your supervisor and work out a reasonable solution, which might be staying at the travel location if a shutdown is not expected to be long. 

– September 25, 2013 1:00 PM
Q.

Metro

Is the Metro essential too?
A.
Lisa Rein :

Hi there, Metro would NOT CLOSE in a shutdown. Its budget is not subject to a federal appropriation. 

– September 25, 2013 1:01 PM
Q.

Shutdown and Sequestration

I was a furloughed DoD employee and now I'm being told to expect a shutdown with a "less than maybe" reality of not recouping any pay from the shutdown. I'm also a young fed who really can't afford these budget quagmires--is Congress even aware of how badly they're affecting the civil service?
A.
Joe Davidson :

Your note reflects the dire situation that real peoople find themselves in because of politics in DC.  Too often the political point scoring overshadows the serious impact on individuals. Is Congress aware of this? Some members are. Others act like they aren't.

– September 25, 2013 1:05 PM
Q.

Government shutdown: What contractors are suppose to do?

Every time there is talk of Government shut down I see FAQ to the effect what is going to happen to federal employees, their pay etc but there is never a dicussion of government contractors. A large portion of government contractors work on-site i.e. on government property. Can you shed some light on that. How our pay is going to be affected. Would we also get back pay in case of shutdown? Thanks

A.
Lisa Rein :

Thanks for this question; we need to address the potential effect on contractors more fully than we have. My understanding is that if funding for a contract has already been obligated or the contract is multi-year, it would not be affected and employees would continue working. Here is some guidance from a memo the new OMB chief, Sylvia Burwell, put out last week:

 

– September 25, 2013 1:07 PM
Q.

Agencies slow to react?

I work for a federal agency and have received exactly 1 generalized email about instructions for a shut down. I understand that the situation is fluid, and whether it will happen is hard to predict, but I wonder if my experience is typical among other feds. Shouldn't we have a clear set of instructions of what we will be expected to do to begin to wind down critical work in the least disruptive way?
A.
Joe Davidson :

Your frustration probably is common among federal workers. OMB this year has been better about getting shutdown guidance to agencies, but still many questions remain. Yes, you should have a clear set of instructions. This is one thing employees and their organizations can press agency leaders to provide. 

– September 25, 2013 1:07 PM
Q.

Re: PSA

I just wrote about agencies staying in touch with their staff about this but neglected to thank the Washington Post. You all have been doing excellent and informative reporting, and I really appreciate it since my agency has so far told me exactly zip.
A.
Joe Davidson :

Thank you. 

We're always open to good story ideas about the shutdown and other topics.

– September 25, 2013 1:09 PM
Q.

Filibuster

I'm sorry to ask you such a Congress 101 question, but what is the point of Cruz's filibuster? Aside from the political angle, could you explain how this affected the process of budget negotiations?
A.
Joe Davidson :

Majority Leader Harry Reid said it delayed the negotiations. I don't know of any other impact.

– September 25, 2013 1:10 PM
Q.

PSA

If there are any government HR or management people reading this chat who have NOT yet sent an email to the entire staff about a possible shutdown, please step away and do so right now. No one knows what's going to happen, but it would help us all if you could just say, hey, we're aware of the situation and we know you're concerned and we're as on top of it as we can be. So far my agency has sent out exactly ONE (1) email about it that basically told us to look at the OPM website to find out if we're coming to work Tuesday. Thanks, guys. Nice working with you.
A.
Lisa Rein :

Wow, that sounds incredibly frustrating. There will definitely be more info coming from your agency by Friday and by Monday if this standoff on the Hill isn't resolved. In the meantime, you might want to look at each agency's shutdown plan from 2011. They outline pretty clearly which functions would be essential and which wouldnt. Things could change as the president has the authority to tweak this stuff. Hope this helps 

http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/contingency-plans

– September 25, 2013 1:10 PM
Q.

Sequester come and gone?

What makes you think the Sequester has 'come and gone'? We have yet to feel the full impact of it.
A.
Lisa Rein :

The sequester is supposed to last ten years, by law. It looks like it will definitely be in effect in the fiscal year that starts Tuesday, although my understanding is that the cuts wouldn't start until January. The question is whether agencies would have more flexibility than they did this year to implement the cuts, which could mean fewer furloughs.  On the other hand, some agencies , in particular DOD have talked openly about RIFs. 

– September 25, 2013 1:13 PM
Q.

Joe Davidson :

I need to sign off for now. Thank you for your questions and I'm sorry we couldn't get to all of them. Please keep reading the Federal Diary, stories by Lisa Rein and all of The Washington Post coverage. We're always open to good story ideas. I can be reached at joe.davidson@washpost.com 

Q.

Unemployment Benefits

Are Feds able to apply for unemployment if a shutdown occurs?
A.
Lisa Rein :

Thank you for asking this question.. My understanding is that unlike the sequestration furloughs, these would be consecutive rather than one day at a time, which would make a better case for unemployment insurance. But since UI is a state/federal program, it gets tricky. The agency that is furloughing must have an arrangement in place with the state where the furloughed employees  live to offer them unemployment benefits if they apply. In the sequester it turned out that most states did not. We need to check into this more deeply. Sorry I can't be more specific

– September 25, 2013 1:16 PM
Q.

Shutdown Timeline

I run a small business with 24 employees 14 of which work on government contracts. It is hard to imagine our work will be deemed essential so a government shutdown for us and many like us is crippling. After the procedural vote by the Senate today what is the timeline of events leading up to the Midnight Oct 1 deadline
A.
Lisa Rein :

Here is a guide my colleague Sean Sullivan wrote on this subject. The House bill defunding the Affordable Care Act but keeping the government running through mid-December is now at the Senate. The Senate hasn't taken it up, but is sure to strip the defunding provision. Then the billgoes back to the House. The clock ticks....

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/09/19/a-step-by-step-guide-to-whats-next-in-the-government-shutdown-showdown/

 

 

– September 25, 2013 1:19 PM
Q.

Patent Office

Any idea if the Patent Office is considered essential? There are filings due almost every day (I'm an attorney), with serious problems if dates are missed. Presumably, we can still continue our electronic filings, but are those workers considered essential? We often need to communicate with them.
A.
Lisa Rein :

Hi there, I'm not sure about the Patent Office but if you look at the 2011 contingency plans here (under the Commerce Dept of course).. I think you can use them for guidance:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/contingency-plans

 

– September 25, 2013 1:25 PM
Q.

LENGTH OF A SHUTDOWN

We're told that a shutdown would only apply to "non-essential" government functions and that "essential" functions would continue. What is the legal authority that authorizes this spending? How long is emergency funding authorized to continue for without further Congressional appropriation?
A.
Lisa Rein :

Employees performing "essential function" --like the military, prison guards, meat inspectors, and many more people--must get paid by law. But the law doesnt say when. So it's not really an emergency appropriation. If a shutdown fell within feds' two-week pay cycle, the essential folks would most likely be made whole with their next paycheck. If not, their pay would be delayed. 

– September 25, 2013 1:28 PM
Q.

Lisa Rein :

Thank you all for weighing in. We will be writing a lot more on this subject in the coming days. Lisa . PS. Feel free to email me at Lisa.Rein@washpost.com

Q.

:

Don't forget, you can continue submitting your questions 24/7. Each day we'll have reporters and experts dropping in here to answer the questions that have been submitted. So keep asking questions using the "Submit Your Question" link at the top of the page, and stay tuned for more answers.

The next round of live answers will be Thursday at 3 p.m. and focus on the local impact of a potential shutdown.

Q.

Mike DeBonis :

Hi folks: Mike DeBonis here, with you from the John A. Wilson Building, seat of government for the District of Columbia. 

I've filed stories this week on the District government's aggressive stance toward a possible shutdown and that's where my expertise mainly lies. I am happy to field questions in D.C. matters and will do my best to address other matters as well.

Q.

Jury Duty

I have DC Superior Court Jury Duty scheduled for Tuesday, October 1st at 8 AM. Should I plan on going to the Moultree Courthouse or stay at home with my dog and drink coffee?
A.
Mike DeBonis :

While the District government may ultimately decide to defy the federal shutdown, the D.C. courts -- including Superior Court -- are in fact federally managed and funded separate from the D.C. government.

So regardless of what Mayor Gray ends up doing, if the federal government shuts downTuesday, you can reasonably expect the Moultrie Courthouse to be closed. If things are still up in the air Monday afternoon, I would call the jury office to be sure.

– September 26, 2013 3:03 PM
Q.

Metro Schedule Changes

Will Metro (or, has Metro in the past) change its schedule if there is a shutdown? Seems like a lot of near-empty cars during rush hour . . . .
A.
Mike DeBonis :

Metro will not be directly affected by a shutdown. While it has received a capital funding contributions from the federal government, it does not operate subject to a federal appropriation.

As to whether Metro will scale back service in case of a shutdown, that remains to be seen. 

Dr. Gridlock addressed a similar question last time we went through this, in 2011: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/28/AR2011022805689.html

– September 26, 2013 3:10 PM
Q.

Precedent for future District mayors and Councilmembers

Shutdown brinkmanship has become a common occurrence. Whether or not there is a shutdown on Oct 1, 2013, have District leaders put themselves in a position whereby in advance of future, possible shutdowns they'll be forced to stake out a defiant position? If the mayor and Council don't stand up in the future, they'll risk looking weak.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

Great question. I think there's some truth to that, depending on what happens this time around. Activists for District autonomy and voting rights see this as the best chance in quite some time to highlight the city's unenviable position of having to curtail city services because of events wholly out of its control. Should Congress step back from the brink this time, it will be difficult for Mayor Gray or a future mayor to go back to the old posture during future shutdown threats.

Much depends at this point on how the Obama administration's budget office treats Mayor Gray's request to deem all 32,000 city employees essential.

– September 26, 2013 3:13 PM
Q.

DC Mayor's Race

What's the DC mayoral candidates take on the shutdown (e.g. who's in favor of defying Congress and who isn't)?
A.
Mike DeBonis :

I have not checked with every candidate but there is broad support on the D.C. Council for defying Congress in some manner.

Tommy Wells sent a message to his campaign list Wednesday saying "We need to fight back" against Congress.

Have not heard anything official from Jack Evans or Muriel Bowser, though Evans was at the Tuesday breakfast meeting where there was much talk of defiance. He did not speak against it, but he is a lawyer and can be cautious on these things. If Attorney General Irv Nathan speaks out strongly against a particular course of action, it could be hard to Evans to recommend doing otherwise.

– September 26, 2013 3:20 PM
Q.

Why are air traffic controllers essential?

Why should air traffic controllers continue to work? If the planes are not in the air, there is no threat to public safety. And grounding all aircraft might let people know that government does things that they have come to depend on for travel and freight transport. Same for TSA. If no one is flying, they are not needed.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

Here's a suggestion on another avenue of defiance -- one that would have to be undertaken by the Obama administration. Historically, however, ATC and airport security have been deemed essential to the preservation of life and property.

It would take some contortions for lawyers at FAA and OMB to change that interpretation now.

– September 26, 2013 3:23 PM
Q.

Former essential employee who worked thru the shutdown

I work at a military hospital. During the last shutdowns we all were considered essential and were required to work. It was very frustrating to have worked for all that time while many others didn't work for weeks and still received retroactive pay. Do you think they would do anything to "reward" those who spent their money while they weren't being paid to get to work as opposed to those who did not?
A.
Mike DeBonis :

Interesting point about the equities of being essential vs. non-essential. (Or, in the preferred nomenclature, exempted vs. non-exempted.)

Non-exempted employees can rest somewhat assured on this point, if assured is the right word, that there is a significant chance that furloughed workers won't be made whole for their time off.

– September 26, 2013 3:26 PM
Q.

payment for 4 hours on Oct 1

OMB guidance says that employees will be paid for up to 4 hours on Tuesday Oct 1 - isn't that in violation of the ADA?
A.
Mike DeBonis :

My understanding is that the Office of Management and Budget allows non-exempted employees a paid half day to, in essence, shut the government down in an orderly manner. This illustrates the point that between the lines of the Antideficiency Act -- the federal law requiring the shutdown -- there is immense space for interpretation, particularly over .

Those interpretations are made principally by the Office of Management and Budget with the additional guidance of the Department of Justice and the Government Accountability Office.

Here is a fun read, from DOJ to OMB in the months ahead of the last shutdown in 1995: http://www.justice.gov/olc/appropriations2.htm

– September 26, 2013 3:32 PM
Q.

could Obama make an executive order to keep the dc gov running?

has any Pres done this before? surprised to see the sanitation guys marked as non essentials too
A.
Mike DeBonis :

If the Obama administration wanted to allow the District government to continue operating, it would not be by executive order. Rather, the easier course would be for OMB to simply grant Mayor Gray's request to deem the whole city government as exempted. 

But many observers consider that prospect unlikely. Federal lawyers are likely mortified about setting the precedent of allowing an entire swath of the federal budget to go about business as usual in the absence of appropriation.

But lawyers I have talked to speculate that there is an argument to be made that the District government is different from, say, the National Park Service. The legal contortions might not be convincing to a judge, but they could be made.

– September 26, 2013 3:36 PM
Q.

Federal pensions affected?

Will federal retirees' pensions be impacted by the shutdown? I.e., Will our monthly checks still get direct deposited on October 1? Thanks!
A.
Mike DeBonis :

This is from an FAQ prepared by the federal personnel office:

I’m a Federal retiree. Will I still receive my monthly annuity payment during a government shutdown?

A. Yes, Federal retirees under the CSRS and FERS retirement systems will still receive their scheduled annuity payments on the first business day of the month.

– September 26, 2013 3:42 PM
Q.

Probability of shutdown

What is the updated probability of a shutdown? When will government employees be told whether or not to come in to work?
A.
Mike DeBonis :

I will let my colleagues on Capitol Hill field this one. Read this story from Ed O'Keefe, Roz Helderman and Lori Montgomery posted this afternoon.

Headline: "Shutdown grows more likely as House digs in"

– September 26, 2013 3:45 PM
Q.

Shutdown

Whose idea was it to resist the shutdown? Was it from the Council or Mayor Gray? If the Council, who first proposed the idea?
A.
Mike DeBonis :

It's fair to say the mayor and certain council members were both talking about this before matters came to ahead Tuesday morning.

Gray, I am told by administration officials, had batted around some options privately among his aides in the past week or so. But I believe he had been chastened by AG Irv Nathan to stay within the bounds of the law. 

At the breakfast meeting Tuesday, council members -- starting with David Grosso (I-At Large), who issued a news release during the breakfast urging defiance -- in essence confronted the mayor, saying enough is enough, we've got to make a stand.

It was clear Gray relished the discussion and had already given the matter some thought. You could almost see it on his face as he became convinced a more aggressive tack would have a lot of support.

– September 26, 2013 3:52 PM
Q.

government shutdown

People who are on a fixed income and depend on a monthly check because of health issues and depend on foodstamps to help them out each month for food, what will happen to those people if a government shutdown happens?

A.
Mike DeBonis :

Generally speaking, a short shutdown should not have any impact on food stamps (SNAP) or TANF payments -- both of which are administered by the states using federal block grants. It is generally expected that Social Security checks, including disability (SSI), will continue to be mailed based on past experience.

– September 26, 2013 4:00 PM
Q.

Agencies that Fund Themselves

I work for an independent federal agency that "self-funds" through charging fees to the regulated industry. Our budget is still approved by Congress and we go through the appropriations budget. We are still subject to the shutdown, correct? Much thanks.
A.
Mike DeBonis :

Yep. If your budget is appropriated by Congress, you're in danger of shutdown. Sorry!

This is analogous to the District's situation. The majority of city operating funds are from locally raised revenue -- property tax, sales tax, income tax, user fees, fines, etc. And the vast majority of the federal funds the District government gets are through national programs that are available to the 50 states and municipalities therein -- Medicaid, housing vouchers, etc.

The idea that federal taxpayers in other parts of the country are directly supporting the District is -- with particular exceptions, like the courts and prisons -- a myth.

– September 26, 2013 4:05 PM
Q.

WAPO Pay wall and the shutdown

The WAPO offers a very nice gateway for information to government employees while in the office. Will the WAPO consider suspending their pay wall if the government shuts down so that furloughed employees can still access information?
A.
Mike DeBonis :

I'll wrap it up on this note!

Thanks for reading, everyone, and while this is a decision well above my pay grade here at the Post, I'd encourage you to send a note to our publisher, Katharine Weymouth, with your suggestion. Even better: Send her a tweet!

– September 26, 2013 4:09 PM
Q.

:

Thanks everyone for joining us over the past few days in this chat. We're wrapping up here, but if you have more questions on the politics of a potential shutdown, Chris Cillizza will be chatting Friday at 11 a.m. ET over at The Fix Live. So send your questions in over there.

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