The Cable

Congressmen get paid during shutdown, most staffers out of luck

If a government shutdown hits Washington on Friday, thousands of government employees will be sent home without pay and soldiers in the field will have to temporarily fight without compensation until the politicians figure it out. But Congressmen get to set their own shutdown rules -- and they will continue to get paid. Most of their staffers won't.

"Congress has its own shutdown planning and set of guidelines," a senior administration official told reporters on a Wednesday conference call about the potential shutdown. The legislative branch is subject to the shutdown but is able to set its own rules on who gets to keep working, who gets paid, and who gets retroactively reimbursed.

A senior administration official confirmed to The Cable that even if the taps are shut off, all Congressmen will later be reinbursed their entire salaries no matter how long the shutdown lasts. Staffers who are deemed essential enough to keep working through the crisis could also get paid, but most will be sent home, without pay for the forced leave.

On the conference call, the officials confirmed The Cable's report that uniformed members of the military will not get paid during the shutdown, although they will get the money back later (not with interest). The officials also confirmed that the vast majority of Defense Department, State Department, and USAID civilians would be furloughed, as well as most White House staff.

"We expect that a significant number of DOD employees, unfortunately, would be furloughed during this shutdown," the official said.

We're told by multiple State Department officials that planned trips have already been cancelled and some officials abroad are being told to return home early, put newly incurred costs on their credit cards, and hope for reimbursement later.

A host of other important government services would also be suspended. The Internal Revenue Service would stop processing paper tax return filings and doing audits. The Federal Housing Administration, which guarantees one of every three mortgages, would stop functioning. The Small Business Administration would stop approving loans for small businesses.

"This would have a significant effect on our economic momentum," the official said.

Ramping up the pressure even further, the official also wanted Washington residents to know that unless Republicans agree to a deal, "The Cherry Blossom parade will not happen this weekend."

Officially called the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, the longtime spring tradition in downtown D.C. features "lavish floats, giant helium balloons, marching bands, and performers... in an energy-filled spectacle of music and showmanship seen only once a year."

The Cable

Government shutdown would mean soldiers stop getting paid

One consequence of a government shutdown -- which will occur on April 8 unless Congress passes a new funding bill -- is that members of the military will no longer be paid, even though they will continue to work and fight. And as legislators and the Obama administration struggle to avoid a shutdown, officials are preparing contingency plans to keep key national security and foreign policy activities running when the money tap runs dry.

Programs that are essential for the safety and security of the country are exempted from a shutdown, but the administration still has to figure out where to draw the line between essential and non-essential functions, and how to keep key national security functions going without money.

The White House Office of Management and Budget sent an e-mail to deputies of most government agencies Monday night to direct them to prepare for a shutdown.

"The president has been clear that he does not want a shutdown... But we are aware of the calendar, and to be prudent and prepare for the chance that Congress may not pass a funding bill in time, OMB today encouraged agency heads to begin sharing their contingency plans with senior managers throughout their organization to ensure that they have their feedback and input," OMB senior advisor Kenneth Baer said in a statement about the email. "As the week progresses, we will continue to take necessary steps to prepare for the possibility that Congress is unable to come to agreement and a lapse in government funding ensues."

In the event of a shutdown, all uniformed military personnel would continue to work but would stop receiving paychecks, an official familiar with the government's planning told The Cable. As April 8 falls in the middle of the Defense Department's two-week pay period, military personnel would actually receive a paycheck totaling half the normal amount. A large number of Pentagon civilians would be furloughed without pay for the duration of the shutdown. Support structures for military families, such as military schools, would remain open. When the shutdown ends, the soldiers would get their back pay but the civilians might not.

Most personnel at U.S. foreign missions would be retained, the official said, although about two-thirds of the State Department and USAID staff in Washington would be furloughed. Non-emergency passport services for Americans would also likely be suspended. Up to three-quarters of the staff at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative would be sent home without pay.

U.S. diplomats and military officials would still be able to travel for important meetings, but "it will be a much, much, much tougher standard," the official said, explaining that travel would be approved only "if it is integral to the foreign relations and safety and security of the country."

The shutdown would also impact government organizations that help American companies do business abroad. For example, the Export-Import Bank would stop approving new loan guarantees or insurance policies, the official said, which could cost American exporters $2 billion to $4 billion each month in income and jeopardize deals already in progress.

Veterans are actually exempted from the consequences of the shutdown because the Veterans Administration receives advance appropriations and therefore already has its money for the rest of the year. Law enforcement activities at the Justice Department and the Homeland Security Department would also continue without interruption, the official said. 

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters on Tuesday that if the shutdown happens on April 8 at midnight, the Defense Department would "retain the ability and the authority to continue to protect our vital interests around the world, to continue to safeguard the nation's security, to wage the wars we're fighting and the operations that we are conducting right now."

Morrell said that Deputy Secretary Bill Lynn was leading the internal effort to plan for a shutdown. He also said that no decision on suspending military paychecks had been made, although our sources said that the checks would definitely stop.

Obama made the case on Tuesday that a government shutdown would hurt America's fragile economic recovery and its credibility with a range of domestic and international actors.

"At a time when the economy is just beginning to grow or we're just starting to see a pickup in employment, the last thing we need is a disruption that's caused by a government shutdown; not to mention all the people who depend on government services," Obama said.