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October 4, 2013

Column: Duration of shutdown is anyone's guess

Hundreds of thousands of federal employees went on unpaid furlough starting Tuesday, victims of America’s 18th partial government shutdown.

These furloughs result when Congress fails to appropriate money to operate the federal bureaucracy or fails to pass a continuing resolution to maintain past appropriations. It was the failure to reach a deal between the Republican-led House and Democratic-led Senate for a continuing resolution this week that caused the current shutdown.

The Office of Personnel Management has put out this directive to the bureaucracy:

“In a shutdown furlough, an affected agency would have to shut down any activities funded by annual appropriations that are not excepted by law. Typically, an agency will have very little to no lead time to plan and implement a shutdown furlough.”

No one is quite certain of the exact number, but more than 800,000 workers went home Tuesday after reporting briefly to do the business of shutting down much of the machinery of government.

All national parks have closed. Americans who turn 65 this week cannot apply for Social Security or Medicare benefits. Even the hugely popular Internet “panda cam” at the National Zoo has gone dark.

How long will this last?

The longest partial shutdown was the last, a 21-day period from Dec. 16, 1995, through Jan. 6, 1996. That was prompted by a squabble between Democratic President Bill Clinton and the Republican-controlled Congress over whose timetable should be used to craft a federal budget. The two sides compromised.

It’s anyone’s guess, of course, how long the current spat will continue on whether the government should be shut down because some Republicans want a delay in implementing part of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

This commentary was written by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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