Most government offices have been closed for more than a week as the result of a congressional impasse over funding the Affordable Care Act (i.e. Obamacare). Conservative Republicans have sought to defund the law by adding riders to legislation that would provide fiscal year 2014 funding to keep the government open. Thus far, both chambers have agreed to an annual funding level of $986 billion, which is higher than the limit set in the Budget Control Act.
Republicans in the House of Representatives are insisting on defunding the 2010 health care reform law as part of the must-pass spending bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and President Obama have thus far held firm to not negotiate on whether Congress should fund the federal government.
In recent weeks, the legislative process has resembled a game of ping-pong. The House passed a bill to fund the government and defund Obamacare, which the Senate amended to remove the provision on health care. That bill was sent back to the House, where it was amended again and sent back to the Senate. The process repeated several more times before time ran out and the new fiscal year started on 1 October.
Federal agencies began shutting down operations on the morning of 1 October. Subsequently, the House passed legislation that would ensure that federal employees are eventually paid for the time they have been furloughed. This legislation was passed after uniformed Secret Service and Capitol Police officers, working without pay, prevented a woman from ramming her vehicle onto White House and Capitol grounds. Officers involved in the incident were injured trying to stop the vehicle.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has been pursuing an alternate approach: funding and reopening select agencies and departments. The National Institutes of Health and National Parks would have reopened under legislation passed by the House last week. Both bills were modified by Senate Democrats to fund the entire government until mid-November.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently announced that he was recalling federal civilian civil servants at the Department of Defense (DOD). The move came after DOD and the Justice Department interpreted a provision of a bill signed into law last week that guarantees uniformed military personnel are paid. According to news reports, DOD will recall roughly 300,000 civilians who contributed to the morale, well-being, and readiness of service members.
At the Environmental Protection Agency, about six percent of the workforce will continue working because they perform “essential duties” or because their salaries are paid for by sources other than annual appropriations.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) issued guidance that stated that awardees may continue work on all awards “to the extent that doing so will not require federal staff intervention and that funds are available….[N]o payments will be made during the funding hiatus.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, NSF, and others shuttered official websites due to the lapse in government funding. Other agencies notified users that their websites would not be updated until the government resumes business as usual.
Government agencies will remain closed until the House and Senate agree to a spending plan, which is increasingly looking to be more than a week off. News reports have speculated that a spending plan may come together with a proposal to address the nation’s debt ceiling. Current forecasts indicate that the country will hit its debt limit on 17 October. Many also believe that hard line Republicans will attempt to secure deep cuts to federal programs as well as repeal the health care reform law as part of any deal to address the debt ceiling.