If the government shuts down, which services will be shut off?

The rumor mill on Capitol Hill has the nation anticipating a federal government shutdown, which could happen in nine days if Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on the federal spending plan for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. The current plan runs out on March 4.

According to the Washington Post, federal agencies are preparing, individually, to operate at reduced levels in the event of a government shutdown, which the Obama administration has said it is trying to avoid. Exactly which departments would be closed and which federal workers would be sent home has not been revealed.

But when a government "shuts down," it doesn't actually shut down completely -- just those those services that are not considered to be "essential," such as tours at the National Mall or getting rid of the animal poop at the National Zoo (which actually happened during the last government shutdowns in 1995 and early 1996, the Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe told Fox 5 Morning News).

Watch O’Keefe's analysis of the situation on Fox 5 Morning News:

Temporary Spending Bill Needed To Avoid A Government Shutdown: MyFoxDC.com

"Essential" services, according to the Office of Management and Budget, are defined as those that are “essential to the national security or the safety of life and property”; provide for benefit payments and the performance of contract obligations; and provide essential activities that protect life and property, such as medical and emergency care, public health and safety, air traffic control, border surveillance, law enforcement and protection of federal prisons.

Per a Congressional Research Service report from November 1999, the five-day federal shutdown in November 2005 resulted in the furlough of about 800,000 federal employees. The 21-day shutdown from December to January 1996 resulted in approximately 284,000 furloughs, while another 475,000 federal employees continued to work “in a non-pay status,” meaning their federal health benefits continued.

Other consequences of the'05 shutdown, according to the report:

  • New patients were not accepted into clinical research at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, and hotline calls concerning disease were not answered.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ceased disease surveillance.
  • Toxic waste clean-up work ceased at 609 sites.
  • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms experienced delays processing alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives applications.
  • Work on more than 3,500 bankruptcy cases was suspended.
  • Delinquent child-support cases were suspended.
  • 368 National Park Service sites were closed.
  • 200,000 U.S. applications for passports went unprocessed, as did 20,000-30,000 applications by foreigners for visas every day.
  • All 13,500 Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs employees were furloughed.
  • An estimated 25,000 American Indians did not receive timely payments of oil and gas royalties.

But the mail was delivered.

According to CNN Money.com, this time around, if the government shuts down, we could see hundreds of thousands of federal employees being furloughed, during which time they will not be paid, but should expect a retroactive payback sometime later, unlike federal contract workers. CNN Money points out that the longer the shutdown lasts, the more difficult it becomes for agencies to determine which workers are still essential.

Congress has stated its plans to discuss a short-term spending plan to prevent a shutdown. On Tuesday, Senate Democrats proposed to extend current stimulus-level appropriations for at least a month, meaning a suspension of President Obama’s additional proposed spending increases for the time being, according to FoxNews.com. Republican leaders are working on a counter-proposal that could be released today. According to the network, aides have suggested the counter-proposal will likely call for a short-term plan of two to three weeks, with pro-rated cuts from their original $61 billion cut proposal.

House Republicans posit that Democrats really want a shutdown, as a way of making the Republicans look weak and avoiding budget cuts. And in a statement released today, House Speaker John Boehner said:

“The American people want Congress and President Obama to enact legislation that keeps the government running while cutting spending.  Heeding their will, the People’s House has passed such legislation; the Democratic-controlled Senate, by contrast, has not.  Americans understand we need to stop the spending binge in Washington to create a better environment for job creation.  So I ask Senator Reid, with all due respect: what are you willing to cut?

Instead of huddling with lobbyists to stop spending cuts, the Republican-led House has listened to the people and passed legislation to keep the government open through September while cutting spending.  If the Senate refuses to vote on this bill, the House next week will pass a shorter-term bill to keep the government open that also cuts spending.  We will give Senator Reid and his colleagues every opportunity to follow the will of the people we serve. Our goal is to cut spending to create a better environment for job creation – not to shut down the government.”