Anarchy in the US? What Would've Happened if the US Government Had Shut Down

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Capitol Washington sunset - Sputnik International, 1920, 01.10.2021
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The US Congress narrowly avoided a shutdown of the federal government on Thursday by passing a temporary funding bill. But what if they hadn’t? Was the US on the verge of anarchy? Not quite. Here’s a few things that would - and would not - have happened if the US ran out of money.
So, What Happened?
The US federal government was about to run out of money appropriated to fund it. According to the US Constitution, only Congress has the power to create funding for federal agencies. Democrats tried to leverage the situation to get Republicans to agree to raise the debt ceiling, but the gamble failed.
The federal government now has enough money to continue paying its bills until December 3.
It’s Not Everything, But It’s A Lot.
If the spending bill hadn’t been passed, it wouldn’t have meant a universal halt of all federal government functions.
Federal agencies would begin locking their doors on Friday, and would furlough many of their employees deemed nonessential, meaning they wouldn’t get fired, but they would neither do work nor be paid. Each federal agency and department has its own shutdown plans, outlining who stays and who gets furloughed.
In all, about 2.1 million civilian federal employees would likely get sent home without checks for the duration of the crisis.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve become accustomed to “essential workers” meaning something different. But in this case, it would include fire and rescue workers, police officers, military service members, air traffic controllers, Transportation Security Administration employees, and postal workers. All would work without pay, but would receive back pay for the hours worked once the government gets new funding.
However, many other functions we might consider essential, such as safety inspections, would likely cease. According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, other functions that would stop include payment of Medicare checks and Supplemental Assistance for Needy Persons (SNAP) payments, operation of the national parks, and many of the functions of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the National Institutes for Health (NIH).
Immigration court proceedings, passport applications, the processing of home or small business loans by government financiers, and road repairs would all stop.
What About COVID-19?
“The worst time in the world we want to shut down the government is in the middle of a pandemic where we have 140,000 people a day getting infected and 2,000 people a day dying,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, US President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser and chief of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told The Washington Post earlier this month.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the NIH, has said it would furlough about 43% of its employees. This would create delays, especially in vaccine distribution, testing, and certification processes, but they wouldn’t cease.
However, we really don’t know how a shutdown would affect government efforts to fight the pandemic, as a shutdown has never happened during one before.
Has It Ever Happened Before?
Yes! The federal government has lacked appropriated funds to continue functioning in years that include 1995, 2013, 2018, and 2019, the last and longest of which lasted for 35 days. It only ended once hundreds of air traffic controllers mounted an ersatz strike by calling in sick for days on end, forcing then-US President Donald Trump to relent.
So We Could Find Ourselves Back Here in 2 Months?
Yes.
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