President Donald Trump has officially said he won’t sign a funding bill approved by the Senate, ratcheting up the possibility that the government could go into a partial shutdown later this week.
The December 21 deadline for funding a portion of the government, including the State Department, the Justice Department, the Transportation Department, the Agriculture Department, and the Department of the Interior, is rapidly approaching. (Other agencies have already been fully funded, including the Department of Health and Human Services.)
As things stand, Congress still needs to pass seven spending bills, including the contentious Homeland Security appropriations bill, which governs funding for border security and a potential wall, to avoid a shutdown.
If they don’t, only about a quarter of the government would be affected, unlike previous wholesale shutdowns in January 2018 and October 2013. Still, hundreds of thousands of employees will be furloughed and likely receive back pay after the fact. Some services would come to a halt, and others would be cut back.
Here’s a rundown of some of the things that will and won’t be impacted by a partial shutdown.
What’s still running
Since roughly three-quarters of the government has been funded by existing bills, many services are set to remain intact. Other programs that have been classified as “essential” will keep running as well.
Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid
- Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are all slated to keep up their operations uninterrupted. All three programs fall under “mandatory spending” that the federal government has committed to — and are not affected by the annual appropriations process. (Medicaid also relies, in part, on state spending.)
- New applicants for these programs might face a wait, however.
The US Postal Service
- Post offices will remain operational and mail delivery will continue. As Rachel Wolfe has written for Vox, the USPS is funded by independent sources of revenue, including the sales of products and services — so it’s not impacted by any kind of shutdown.
Veterans hospitals and benefits
- The Department of Veterans Affairs has already secured its funding, so veterans hospitals will maintain their routine operations.
- Veteran disability pay and GI Bill benefits are funded by their own legislation separate from the annual appropriations bills, so those would stay consistent, according to Military.com.
- People will still be able to get food stamps and subsidized lunches, at least in the short term. But it depends on how long the shutdown lasts: the US Department of Agriculture has only had limited funding to maintain them without newly approved appropriations in the past.
- Active duty members of the military are exempt from shutdown furloughs, according to a contingency plan for the Department of Homeland Security. In the past, Congress has needed to pass separate legislation to ensure that members of the military are paid in a timely fashion during shutdowns. Otherwise, they could potentially see delays in their pay depending on if the shutdown extends past a certain payment cycle.
The Mueller investigation
- While special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and the Trump campaign is under the purview of the Department of Justice, it will not be affected by any appropriations stalemate, since it has its own permanent source of funding, CNN reports.
- Border security is at the heart of the shutdown fight and much of the staffing for it is on track to remain intact even in the face of a partial shutdown involving DHS funding. US Customs and Border Patrol is classified as an “essential” service, so a majority of its employees are exempt from furloughs during the shutdown — though they could encounter lags in pay.
- As Bloomberg reports, “the overwhelming majority of border patrol, emergency management and immigration enforcement staff would be able to keep doing their jobs, though with their pay delayed.”
Air traffic control and TSA
- Air traffic controllers, who fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration (which is under the Transportation Department umbrella) are deemed “essential,” and will keep working during a partial shutdown.
- Similarly, Transportation Service Administration agents are also considered “essential” so airline travel is not expected to see disruptions on this front, according to USA Today.
The federal judiciary
- The judiciary is able to maintain operations for a short period of time after funding runs out by using money it’s gathered from various courts-related fees including “funds derived from court filings,” according to the Congressional Research Service.
- In 2018, the judiciary said it had the wherewithal to keep its operations open for about three weeks, notes CRS.
- The city now has more autonomy over its budget and should be able to maintain most of its services, despite ties to federal appropriations.
- During the 2013 shutdown, city officials had to scramble to ensure that DC had the money it needed to remain operational, but since then Congress has approved measures to insulate the impact on the city in the event of a shutdown.
What could be affected by a partial shutdown
Every agency has its own contingency plan set up in case of a shutdown, and there are a couple bodies including the IRS and National Parks that could see some pauses or breaks in service. Additionally, as MarketWatch points out, the president has the ability to determine whether any service is “essential” or not — so it’s possible he could try to shut down a key government function like air traffic control if he really wanted to make a point.
- National parks — which are funded as part of the Interior Department — have long been one of the most visible government entities affected by a shutdown and that could happen again this time around. During last January’s shutdown, many national parks were still open to visitors, but they had limited staffing and closed access to various park facilities, including restrooms. It’s possible we could see a repeat of this arrangement.
- Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo have previously been closed during shutdowns and would likely be shuttered again since they derive their funding from the Interior Department.
- A key body under the Treasury Department, the IRS has indicated that it plans to furlough a significant fraction of its workers under a contingency plan, since tax season has yet to get underway.
State Department services
- People will still be able to obtain passports and visas, although the State Department could curtail issuing them if those services are offered in buildings run by another agency that is shut down, Bloomberg reports.
Environmental and food inspections
- The Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration could both reduce the number of inspections they are conducting on hazardous sites and various food products, respectively.