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Your Government Shutdown Questions, Answered

If Congress can't come to an agreement to fund the government, there will be a shutdown on Oct. 1.
J. Scott Applewhite
If Congress can't come to an agreement to fund the government, there will be a shutdown on Oct. 1.

There's a showdown underway in Congress.

The Republican-controlled House has voted to keep the government running only if the Affordable Care Act is defunded, and the Democratic-controlled Senate isn't likely to go along with that plan. If the two sides can't resolve their differences by Oct. 1, the U.S. government will shut down.

We asked you what you wanted to know about the potential government shutdown, and journalists from NPR's Washington Desk tracked down the answers:

I'd like to know the definition of "shutdown," and the consequences of such.Alex Larson

Unless Congress agrees on a continuing resolution to fund government programs by Sept. 30, the federal government will no longer have the authority to spend money, leading to a partial shutdown of the government.

Now, "partial" is the key word here, because some programs and spending will continue — Social Security and Medicare, for instance. They fall under the rubric of mandatory spending, along with food stamps and unemployment insurance. Those are all programs that are more or less on autopilot and do not rely on annual appropriations bills to keep operating. So Grandma or Dad or older baby boomers do not have to worry; those checks will keep on coming.

Other spending that's exempt from a shutdown: active duty military, Border Patrol and air traffic controllers. According to a memo released by the White House Office of Management and Budget, funding will continue for those functions "necessary to the discharge of the President's constitutional duties and powers" (the military part) or if the "suspension of the function would imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property" (air traffic controllers, Border Patrol).

However, civilian Pentagon employees and hundreds of thousands of other federal workers are not so lucky. According to a memo from the Pentagon, "while military personnel would continue in a normal duty status, a large number of our civilian employees would be temporarily furloughed." So would employees in a range of agencies from the IRS to the National Park Service.

So that weekend trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? If the government shuts down, so will the parks.

-- Brian Naylor

Does the shutdown mean that Congress won't be paid? @mocolvin

Members of Congress will get paid in the event of a shutdown. That is because they fall under the category of "essential" personnel. The last time the government faced a serious threat of shuttering, in 2011, the Senate unanimously passed a bill that would prevent Congress and the president from receiving paychecks during a shutdown. The House never took up the measure. In January, at the beginning of the new legislative year, Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, both Democrats, introduced their bill again. The full Senate has not taken up the measure.

Whether or not congressional staffers get checks during a shutdown is a little bit harder to discern. The general thinking is that most staffers are considered "nonessential" personnel and therefore won't be paid. Based on what took place during the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns, staffers — along with most other federal employees — got paid retroactively for days missed once the government reopened. It is not clear whether staffers would receive retroactive pay this time around. According to Barry Anderson, who was assistant director for budget at the Office of Management and Budget during the last shutdown, the number of people deemed essential or nonessential can be fluid. "During a short shutdown, you may not need to do certain things. But the longer it goes, more people may be deemed 'essential' over time."

-- Brakkton Booker

If there's a shutdown, what's the effect on Obamacare rollout? Do the [people] running the new exchanges get laid off? @21stProgressive

In general, the Affordable Care Act — whose health exchanges are set to launch Oct. 1, which would be the first day of any government shutdown — would be largely unaffected. That's because most of the law's funding does not come from annual appropriations, which are what is at issue in the current budget standoff.

In the 17 states that are operating their own exchanges, a shutdown will have almost no visible impact. "The D.C. exchange would not be affected at all by a government shutdown," said Richard Sorian, communications director for D.C. Health Link, the exchange for the District of Columbia. "We already have our funding and we're ready to open as scheduled on Oct. 1."

The other 34 states have exchanges that are being run in whole or part by the federal government. In 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a document in anticipation of a possible shutdown that noted that employees building the health exchanges were not subject to furlough, because their funding came from money already provided under the Affordable Care Act. HHS officials have not yet said that those who will be operating the exchanges are also protected should the government shut down, although it is assumed that will continue to be the case. Congress has refused to provide any new funding for the law since it passed in 2010.

-- Julie Rovner

Will I still be able to get a passport?@quozimodo

UPDATE at 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 30: Previously, this post said that passports and visas would not be issued in a shutdown. However, the State Department says that's no longer the case.

"Consular operations domestically and overseas will remain 100% operational as long as there are sufficient fees to support operations," according to a memo posted on the State Department website. "However, if a passport agency is located in a government building affected by a lapse in appropriations, the facility may become unsupported."

If you want more details about how things worked the last time the government shut down in the 1990s, check out Brian Naylor's post: Not-So-Fond Memories From The Last Government Shutdowns.

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