Inside and outside of Oakland

Should Congress lose pay if federal government shuts down?

  U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow wants members of Congress to forfeit their pay if the federal government shuts down over a budget impasse.

  The Michigan Democrat said she's sponsoring legislation to stop lawmakers' paychecks if there's no deal to keep the government running by Friday.
  "If there is a government shutdown, it's very important that lawmakers be held accountable and members of Congress see their paychecks stopped along with everyone else who is affected," Stabenow said by statewide conference call Tuesday.
  A shutdown, while it wouldn't affect all government operations, would stop the paychecks of hundreds of thousands of federal workers, including those of her staff and other staff in Congress, the senator said.
  "Members of congress have special treatment," Stabenow said. "If we were shut down, paychecks would stop. It's not right, it's not fair that members of Congress are exempt from that happening.
  "Lawmakers should be held accountable and feel the same impact under a government shutdown," she said.
  Stabenow, 60, is in her second six-year term in the Senate. She is up for election in 2012.
  She estimates a government shutdown would affect some 700,000 jobs at a time she says the focus should be on job creation.
  While not all government services would stop in a federal shutdown — Social Security checks would continue, for example —  Stabenow noted that processing applications for Social Security would be delayed, and that veterans benefits could be affected, based on the last short shutdown in 1995 and 1996. That shutdown, she said, cost taxpayers $1.5 billion.
  She said a shutdown would affect the ability of U.S. businesses to export products. Also affected,   Stabenow said, would be border security and the federal parks system.
  Congress, she said, is likely to reach a short-term agreement to avoid a shutdown, but "what we need is a long-term solution both for this year and beyond.
  "We've got to be smart about this, get everyone in a room, focus on what we need to do to create jobs and make the commonsense cutbacks we need to make," Stabenow said.
  Lawmakers must pass a funding extension by March 4 or the federal government will begin its shutdown process.
  There is talk that Republicans and Democrats are negotiating an extension — but that would only keep the government open until March 18.
  The last time the federal government shut down was five days in November 1995 and another 21 days, ending in January 1996, during the Clinton administration.
  Predicting how the current government would respond to a shutdown isn’t easy since each federal agency is responsible for creating its own shutdown plan.
  Under federal law, reports indicate employees who would keep working through a shutdown must be involved in military or law enforcement duties, protect lives and property or provide medical care.
  Calls to various agencies brought a variety of answers.
  Garth Wootten, division manager for Oakland County Veterans’ Services, said he assumes a shutdown might affect people submitting new claims.
  “It would delay pending claims for new benefits or request for increase on payments,” he said.
  “Those would be delayed by the fact nobody would be working on the claims.”
Mike Zehnder, director of Oakland County Public Services, which includes the county’s veterans services, said if a shutdown impacts veterans, “they can call me directly,” he said.
  “They can shut the world down but they’re not going to shut off veterans’ services," said Zehnder, a veteran. "These individuals have earned and are entitled to their benefits, period.”
Angela Simpson, spokeswoman with the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, said the state agency would not be affected by a federal government shutdown.
  Simpson advised if a shutdown occurs, people should consult www.va.gov or call the Veterans Administration.
  She also urged people to follow alerts issued by the state at the Michigan National Guard Facebook page.
  Mail delivery is unaffected by federal shutdowns, said Shannon LaBruyere, spokeswoman with the U.S. Postal Service.
“We still deliver the mail because we aren’t funded by the federal budget,” said LaBruyere noting that revenue for the agency comes from sales and services.
During the last shutdown, 200,000 passport applications went unprocessed, reports show.
  LaBruyere said this time around, passports would be processed as usual unless the postal service was “instructed by the State Department to do otherwise.”
  Rick Anderson, director with the  Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly, recalled being at the Wood National Cemetery in Milwaukee during the last shutdown.
  “We still provided burial services for anybody who requested it,” he said, as the Great Lakes staff would do if another shutdown occurs.
  U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said of the threat of a shutdown, “I believe we will be able to reach a responsible budget agreement that cuts spending and keeps government services operating, and I will be working to make that happen.
  “People expect Congress to work together to solve problems, not play chicken with the federal budget at the expense of seniors, veterans and small businesses.
  “A shutdown would have real consequences for the American people, and if some members of Congress can’t work together responsibly, then they should face consequences, too.”
  The Federal Times reported that, in the past, air traffic controllers, FBI agents and government doctors would be more likely stay on the job.
  During the first in 1995, an estimated 800,000 employees were sent home.
  Near the end of the second shutdown, an estimated 284,000 were furloughed while 475,000 kept working, but in nonpay status.

  Contact Charles Crumm at 248-745-4649, charlie.crumm@oakpress.com or follow him on Twitter @crummc and on Facebook. More information is at oaklandmichiganpolitics.blogspot.com. Contact Carol Hopkins at 248-745-4645 or carol.hopkins@oakpress.com. Follow her on Twitter @waterfordreport.

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