A federal government shutdown, which could come this week, would mean no new federal contracts for South Carolina businesses, furloughs for some federal workers and delayed pay for others, who must continue to work because they are deemed essential to protecting life and property.
It would be “devastating to the economy of South Carolina, more than most states,” because of military bases and industries that rely on defense-related contracts, said U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia.
Clyburn is assistant leader of Democrats in the U.S. House. But Republicans agree – a partial shutdown would hurt the state’s economy, still struggling to recover from the Great Recession.
A federal shutdown “would create such stress in families, in terms of some people being paid and employed and some people not,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Springdale. “That’s why it should be avoided. It’s not in the interest of really anyone.”
Medicaid and Social Security payments would continue to flow because they are part of permanent law, said Sharon Parrott with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan policy think tank in Washington, D.C.
But there would be other disruptions in federal services that are paid for through the appropriations process, she said.
And those disruptions could hurt the state’s economy.
For example, delays in federal loan approvals could hurt the housing industry. There also would be delays in the processing of passport and visa applications, and reviews of federal tax returns and issuance of refunds. Some national parks, such as Congaree National Park in Lower Richland and Fort Sumter in Charleston, and federally run museums and historic sites also likely would close, a report from the Congressional Research Service says.
Agencies that pay for themselves, including the U.S. Post Office, would not be affected.
But is a partial federal shutdown likely as congressional Democrats and Republicans argue over the budget and Obamacare?
Clyburn, South Carolina’s lone Democrat in Washington, told reporters in Columbia Tuesday that a shutdown “is a realistic possibility but highly improbable.”
By Friday, his outlook was less optimistic: “I still believe in the state’s (South Carolina’s) motto – while I breathe, I hope. But time is running out for the Republicans to do the right thing and stop this brinkmanship.”
Republicans, who control the House, counter that Democratic President Barack Obama and the Democratic-majority U.S. Senate should abandon the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature achievement as president.
A shutdown could happen if Congress fails to reach an agreement on a spending plan that would keep the government open after midnight Monday, the last day the federal government is authorized to spend money.
The GOP-controlled House and Democrat-majority Senate have passed differing versions of a spending bill. One key difference – over the Affordable Care Act – sets the stage for a shutdown.
In their spending plan, House Republicans included language designed to cripple Obamacare, the federal health care law. However, the Senate approved a spending plan that removed that language Friday after U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, gave a vote-delaying 21-hour speech in protest of the law.
Now, the House and Senate have until midnight Monday to reach an agreement and send a spending plan to Obama, who can sign or veto the proposal.
Impact on S.C. military
Federal agencies were making decisions Friday about which employees would continue working and which ones would face furloughs in the event of a shutdown.
Only employees essential to protecting life and property, including the soldiers at Columbia’s Fort Jackson and airmen at Sumter’s Shaw Air Force Base, would continue to work. They would be paid retroactively when the government is running again, Robert Hale, a Defense Department undersecretary, said in a news briefing Friday.
Active-duty military personnel and civilian employees needed to support essential military operations would continue work. All others would be furloughed, including about half of military civilian workers, Hale said.
Other South Carolina communities could be hurt as well.
In June, more than 11,000 federal contractors and U.S. Department of Energy employees were working near Aiken at the Savannah River Site nuclear waste cleanup facility, budgeted at $1.2 billion a year.
All River Site employees, except those deemed essential, face the possibility of furlough if the government shuts down, said Steven Thai, a U.S. Department of Energy spokesman.
The Obamacare debate
South Carolina’s two Republican U.S. senators and six congressmen say they want to avoid a government shutdown. They also say they want to have a conversation about the federal health care law, one they say has not happened yet.
“Very few people here actually are pursuing a government shutdown,” U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-Indian Land, told Al Sharpton recently on PoliticsNation. “We are trying to have a discussion about Obamacare.”
Mulvaney and other South Carolina Republicans in Congress say the health care program will force people off their health insurance plans and hurt the economy by encouraging employers to the cut the hours of workers to avoid having to subsidize their insurance.
Mulvaney told Sharpton that Democrats are unfairly blaming Republicans for threatening a shutdown. The real blame, he said, rests with Democrats who refuse to consider delaying or defunding the health law, adding that President Obama already has issued executive orders delaying part of the bill.
But Republicans, too, are unwilling to compromise.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens, said he would not vote for a spending plan unless it includes provisions to delay or defund some or all of the health care law.
“I’m not advocating for a government shutdown,” he said. “If that happens, we’ll cross the bridge when we get to it.”