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Anatomy Of A Shutdown

Apr 8, 2011

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Reported by

Korva Coleman

There's just hours left for Democrats and Republicans to agree to a budget deal, or the federal government will officially close, because it won't have the authority to pay its bills. NPR's Renee Montagne and Mara Liasson discuss the main obstacles blocking a solution: they're social issues, such as federal money for family planning in the District of Columbia and the EPA's oversight of greenhouse gas emissions. Mara says the money is like 'pennies'.

Mara says negotiators in both parties are looking for ways to say they 'won' in the budget standoff, but it's a looming failure for Speaker John Boehner, who must deal with GOP social conservatives who don't care about political consequences of a government shutdown. And she adds it would be a failure for President Obama, who wants to succeed with his goal of political bipartisanship.

So how does the government decide who stays open or shuts down? Morning Edition talked with John Koskinen, a former deputy director in the Office of Management and Budget, who helped oversee the two shutdowns in 1995 - one of them lasting three weeks.

Koskinen says it's illegal for federal agencies to spend money they don't have, so the agencies that needed to keep certain activities going - like the FBI - had to request a waiver:

Koskinen warns if there's a shutdown, Americans won't have access to information online like they're used to. And it'll be illegal for federal workers to use their mobile devices, no matter how committed they are to their jobs. In the last shutdown, he says one agency locked its doors - specifically to bar loyal workers:

NPR's Liz Halloran explains further what a government shutdown might look like.

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