Is a government shutdown on the agenda?

Spending fight could lead to impasse, experts say; SSA making contingency plans

A Capitol Hill battle over spending cuts could result in a shutdown of the government, according to experts, and at least one agency is getting ready in case it happens.

The House is currently debating a continuing resolution introduced by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) to fund the government for the remainder of this fiscal year. But, Democrats and the Obama administration have expressed strong opposition to the measure because of its deep cuts to a number of government programs. If funding for this fiscal year runs out in March and no continuing resolution is in place to take over, a shutdown is seen as likely, according to media reports.

And House Speaker John Boehner said Feb. 17 that he would not support a stopgap measure to continue funding the government at current levels. “When we say we’re going to cut spending, read my lips: We’re going to cut spending,” Boehner told reporters in the Capitol, according to Politico.

Boehner’s remarks upset Democratic lawmakers, and prompted a high-ranking aide to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to tell Democratic chiefs of staff in a private meeting that a government shutdown is “more likely than not,” Politico reported Feb. 18.

Still, Senate Republicans insist that a shutdown isn’t going to happen.

“Nobody is talking about shutting the government down,” Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the second-ranking Senate Republican said Feb.15, according to the Washington Post. The Post noted that budget disagreements between former President Bill Clinton and GOP members in 1995 and 1996 resulted in federal agencies halting operations and stopping federal pay.

The heated debate about funding for this fiscal year has led the Social Security Administration to start considering how it would enact a furlough in case of a shutdown, Federal Times reported Feb.17.

SSA told the American Federation of Government Employees that it wanted to start bargaining over a potential furlough.

SSA Chief Human Capital Officer Reginald Wells said the agency has “largely planned who would make up a ‘skeleton crew’ that would have to keep working during a shutdown,” according to Federal Times. “Most of these employees would have to maintain computer systems, facilities, and other elements of SSA’s infrastructure, or provide security at buildings.”

Wells added that regular discussions are taking place at the agency about how to implement a possible shutdown. Federal Times reports that SSA said furlough negotiations with the union must begin by March 22.

About the Author

Alyah Khan is a staff writer covering IT policy.

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