Politics

October 7, 2013

Debt limit overtaking shutdown as US crisis focus

By Donna Cassata
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. The Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate are at an impasse, neither side backing down, after House Republican conservatives linked the funding bill to President Obama’s existent health care law.

The Associated Press

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Instead, the public agenda for the day consisted of legislation to reopen the Food and Drug Administration, the latest in a string of measures to soften the impact of the partial shutdown. The measure was approved 235-162.

Earlier House-passed bills would end the shutdown at national parks, the National Guard and Reserves and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, and ease effects for the Washington, D.C., government, among other locations. Each of the measures cleared the House with some Democratic support.

Yet each is under a veto threat by the White House, and Reid opposes them in the Senate as far less than the full restoration of government services that most Democrats favor.

Still, the shutdown eased over the weekend, when about 350,000 civilian defense workers were recalled as the result of legislation Congress passed and Obama signed after the shutdown began.

That left an estimated 450,000 federal employees idle at agencies responsible for domestic programs, ranging from the Departments of Education to Energy, and including Labor, Health and Human Services, Interior, Transportation and more.

The shutdown was felt unevenly, however, because of bewilderingly complex rules and the ability of senior officials to declare some projects essential and therefore allowed to remain open.

Some routine food checks by the FDA were suspended, but the Department of Agriculture’s meat inspections continued uninterrupted. Much of the nation’s space agency was shuttered, although work continued on plans to launch a robotic probe to Mars, which has a once-every-two-years launch window.

Despite the order returning civilian Pentagon workers to their government jobs, defense contractor Lockheed Martin announced it would furlough about 2,400.

Top defense officials noted that despite the recall of most civilians, and the resumption of many activities across the Defense Department, there are critical programs and benefits that remain halted, according to a Pentagon report on their meeting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

For example, the department does not currently have the authority to pay death gratuities for the survivors of service members killed in action - typically a cash payment of $100,000 paid within three days of the death of a service member.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, where Obama visited, served as a demonstration for the variable impact of the partial shutdown.

Officials said the agency had furloughed about 86 percent of its workers, then had recalled about 200 of them last week to prepare for the threat posed by Tropical Storm Karen in the Gulf Coast region.

With the threat passed, Obama said at least 100 of them have been re-furloughed.

“That’s no way of doing business,” he said.

Whatever the shutdown’s inconveniences, it was easily rivaled by the warnings over a default, in which the United States would not be able to pay all its bills.

“A default would be unprecedented and has the potential to be catastrophic,” a Treasury report said. “Credit markets could freeze, the value of the dollar could plummet, U.S. interest rates could skyrocket, the negative spillovers could reverberate around the world.”

Private economists generally agree that a default on the U.S. debt would be extremely harmful, especially if the impasse was not resolved quickly.

Lew has said that while Treasury expects to have $30 billion of cash on hand on Oct. 17, that money would be quickly exhausted in paying incoming bills given that the government’s payments can run up to $60 billion on a single day.

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