Causey: What you should know in case of a shutdown

Friday - 2/18/2011, 5:13pm EST

Mike Causey, senior correspondent, Federal News Radio

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The talk on Capitol Hill of a government shutdown heated up last week as political leaders from both parties pointed to a very real possibility of the inability of Congress to reach a budget compromise.

Congress is "setting up a situation for a confrontation and a game of chicken," said Federal News Radio senior correspondent Mike Causey.

Causey said the shutdown rhetoric is "not a reason to panic." However, he added, "On the other hand too, this is not a drill. This could happen."

Congress failed to pass a budget for the current fiscal year, ending Sept. 30. The stopgap funding measure currently funding government ends March 4.

The Republican-controlled House passed its budget on Saturday for the remaining seven months of the fiscal year, proposing $61 billion in cuts. President Obama has threatened to veto a budget with such deep cuts.

Causey said the Congress has a "long track record" of failing to pass budgets and appropriations, and the "bitterness and acrimony" only increases with each Congress.

The last partial government shutdown in 1995-96 was "not devastating" for federal employees, but the standstill did hurt Americans who relied on government services, said John Elliot, a retired federal employee.

"There was a lot of, a lot of bad press, complaints from the consuming public about the shutdown. That I remember very clearly," Elliot said.

Federal employees were paid on time during the last shutdown because feds are paid on a two-week pay lag, Causey said.

"So government would have to be shut down a month or more to have an effect," he said.

Laura McGann, deputy congressional editor at Politico, said a shutdown could be viewed as a political victory for Republicans who showed they were "sticking to their guns." However, Republicans took the brunt of the blame for the last shutdown. This time around, a shutdown does not bode well politically for either party.

"I don't think any party looks good if no deal can be reached and the government comes to a screeching halt two months into a new Congress," McGann said.