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Could a government shutdown actually happen?

Sen. Mitt Romney says it’s ‘very likely’

SHARE Could a government shutdown actually happen?
A lone protester stands at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City.

A lone protester wishing to remain anonymous stands at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City Oct. 16, 2013. He was protesting the government shutdown and the lack of benefits to veterans. Could a shutdown happen in 2023?

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

It’s budget season and Americans are growing anxious amid the looming possibility of a government shutdown.

Every year, Congress has to appropriate funding for different federal agencies in 12 different spending bills. When these bills aren’t passed on time, it leads to a government shutdown, where all nonessential functions are seized.

In case of a shutdown, federal public employees working for agencies from transportation to the national parks are told not to work. Americans continue receiving Social Security and Medicare, which aren’t a part of the annual budget, but the offices that provide these services work in a limited capacity.

Roughly 8 in 10 voters say that such a shutdown should be avoided because of its negative effects on the economy, according to a poll conducted by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Meanwhile, 7 out of 10 say a shutdown is a distraction from the country’s fiscal problems.

Will there be a government shutdown?

Whether or not there is a shutdown depends on the progress made by congressional lawmakers.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said the possibility is “very likely.”

The Senate is ahead in the budget process compared to the House. With the help of bipartisan support, the upper chamber’s appropriations committee has already passed all 12 spending bills.

With the Senate back in session this week after an August recess, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he plans to hold a vote in the full Senate on three of the bills next week.

“The Senate appropriations process is a lesson in how governing should work,” Schumer said, adding that disagreements between parties should “not paralyze the process.”

Meanwhile, the House, which won’t return until next week, has not moved forward on any of the bills.

Schumer pointed out that both chambers only have until Sept. 30, when government funding expires.

“There’s only one way, one way, that this will happen: through bipartisanship. Neither party can afford to go at it alone if we want to avoid a shutdown,” Schumer said.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are adamant about cutting spending levels lower than $1.586 trillion, which was negotiated by President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy earlier this year as a part of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

A group of conservative Republicans don’t want to spend over the 2022 level of $1.471 trillion, according to a letter sent to McCarthy in June.

But some Senate Republicans seem frustrated with GOP representatives who are threatening a government shutdown.

“I don’t think there is any reason for a shutdown. I’m opposed to a shutdown. Period,” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., told Punchbowl News. “This way of doing business where we’re in constant brinkmanship and real people suffer is just bad news.”

And Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., also said he didn’t want to see a shutdown.

Meanwhile, Romney told reporters Tuesday that it is a losing strategy for House Republicans.

“If you look at the prior shutdowns, Republicans basically just gave in and the shutdown didn’t save any money. It actually cost more money,” Romney said.

But Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., said lawmakers shouldn’t fear a shutdown, even though that isn’t the ultimate goal.

Meanwhile, various federal agencies are already prepared to carry out contingency plans in case funding expires. For example, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation would not allow any employees to work, while the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board plans to keep 39 people onboard.

Could a continuing resolution prevent a shutdown?

The pressure continues to rise on McCarthy, who has suggested extending the current funding through a continuing resolution.

The resolution, a temporary spending bill, is expected to extend funding until December, giving lawmakers enough time to complete the appropriations for 2024.

The White House is also pushing Congress to pass a continuing resolution while lawmakers negotiate over their disagreements

“Although the crucial work continues to reach a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on fiscal year 2024 appropriations bills, it is clear that a short-term continuing resolution will be needed next month,” a spokesperson for the Office of Management and Budget told CNN.

But McCarthy has to tread carefully, as House GOP lawmakers threaten to take away his gavel.

Some Republicans are using the delicate situation to try to set the lower chamber’s priorities — Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene says she won’t support government funding if an impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden isn’t launched.

If lawmakers don’t finish negotiations before the end of the year, government spending across the board — from the Pentagon to the Department of Education — will experience a 1% cut, sending ripples across the U.S. economy.