House passes funding bill, but shutdown still possible

Editor's note: This article was modified after its original publication to reflect the second House vote.

The House of Representatives passed a stopgap budget measure after midnight on Sept. 23, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said it wouldn't get through the Senate, meaning a government shutdown is still possible. However, at least one expert is downplaying the impending threat of a shutdown.

To avoid a federal government shutdown, Congress must pass legislation by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. A measure that would provide $3.7 billion for disaster relief was attached to a stopgap funding measure to keep the government operational into mid-November. After one funding bill failed in the House Wednesday evening, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) spent Thursday convincing Republicans to support the measure with minor changes, the Washington Post reported.

However, without Senate passage, the bill won't avert a shutdown. At issue is funding for disaster relief.

John Palguta, vice president of the Partnership for Public Service, interviewed before the bill passed the House, downplayed the shutdown risk.

“If this was the first time this came up in the calendar year, I think people would be more" worried, he said.  “But I have to say that they’re almost becoming immune. It’s like, ‘here we go again.’ And I don’t think they’re hyperventilating, as much as I think they might have.”

Palguta said the odds are against a shutdown and that there will be a push to pass the overall legislation. Still, he said, there is that “22 percent possibility that it doesn’t happen.”

“Congress follows the polls, and they know their approval ratings are rock bottom,” he said. “They recognize that if there were a shutdown, it’s not going to help anybody. It surely doesn’t help the executive branch get its job done.”

As for whether federal employees should worry, Palguta had a straightforward answer.

“It’s not worth worrying about,” he said. “For one: There’s nothing you can do about it, if you’re a federal employee. It’s always a good philosophy to not worry about the things you can’t control anyway. And two: We’ve been through the drill; we know if it’s going to happen, you’ll get the heads-up – at the last moment. And because we’ve been through the shutdown before, we know basically how it will unfold. There will be plenty of time to worry about if it does happen.”

If the shutdown does in fact happen, Palguta said that federal employees could be hit where it hurts most: their pocketbooks.

“They’re not guaranteed to get paid,” he said. “In prior shutdowns, employees got back pay. But as it was discussed before the last possible shutdown on the appropriations reasons earlier this year, the mood in Congress, the budget situation, is brutal enough that there’s a possibility that employees would not receive back pay. Literally, it’s up to Congress to decide, and right now they’re not being particularly beneficent toward federal employees, so no guarantees.”

About the Authors

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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Reader comments

Fri, Sep 23, 2011

I am amazed that the federal government must be shut down while Congress is unable to pass the annual budget legislation... it is illogical. Shutting Federal Government down is like sending on furlough aviation dispatchers while airplanes are in air. If Congressmen can't accomplish their primary job agreeing on the new fiscal year budget by September 30, then THEY should not be paid their salaries staring from October 1 and until they have budget agreed. Isn't that a simple solution of the long-time (20 years at least) problem when the country lives on Continuing Resolutions?

Fri, Sep 23, 2011

The sadest part is that the people doing all this could never cut it in the Federal workforce. Between a lack of education/experience and a poor work ethic, our agency would fire them before they made it past probation.

Fri, Sep 23, 2011 Frustrated Fed

If I was sure my house would appraise for 20% more than I owe, I'd initiate a much overdue refinance to avoid having to make the payments that I won't be able to make if there is a shutdown.

Fri, Sep 23, 2011

Mr. Palgutta's comments in my view are curious considering his role as vice president and his organization's mission statement and objectives. He seems to be suggesting that government employees are powerless, they shouldn't worry about loss of income, and that we are prone to apathy considering this congressional relapse in budgetary responsibility. Really? My colleagues and I have agreed that the odds are good that one missed entitlement check will be enough to set off riots across the nation. I guess we'll see. I wonder, will Mr. Palgutta then reconsider his remarkably disconnected views?

Fri, Sep 23, 2011

Long Time....We need the Repub incumbents to get control of spending. Otherwise the Dem's will spend you right out of a job!

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