Federal workers nervously eyed the clock and an American public sharply divided along partisan lines watched from the sidelines Friday as Democrats and Republicans sniped at one another in a budget battle that could shut down the government and idle more than 800,000 people.
Negotiators have until midnight Friday to reach an agreement, or the government’s massive gears will begin grinding to a halt.
Should the government shut down, operations from national parks to the White House visitor center would close. Even some government websites would blink out, replaced by virtual closed signs.
But not everything would close.
Essential services such as defense, air traffic control and law enforcement would continue largely unabated, as would Social Security enrollments and payments. The Social Security Administration said a backlog of applications would be crippling. Veterans Administration hospitals and clinics, already funded through the end of the year, would also remain open.
Medicare payments would also continue, as would health benefits for government employees. Electronically filed tax returns would be processed. And although paper returns wouldn’t be reviewed, a shutdown wouldn’t equal a tax holiday — returns would still be due April 18.
The government estimates that 800,000 federal government employees would be sent home to anxiously await an agreement in what could become a lengthy, and unpaid, vacation. Even those who are asked to work wouldn’t get paid until after the shutdown ends, and that could include U.S. troops fighting overseas.
But the president and members of Congress will continue to get paid, although House Speaker John Boehner, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and some others have said lawmakers should return their salaries should it come to that.
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