WASHINGTON (AFP) – The Obama administration warned U.S. federal agencies to prepare for a possible government shutdown that could hobble the U.S. economy, as Congress wrangled over a fast-approaching budget deadline.
The current fiscal year ends September 30 and Congress remains bitterly split over spending, in particular over President Barack Obama’s landmark health care law.
The Republican-led House of Representatives passed a bill last week that would prevent a shutdown at the price of defunding what has become known as “Obamacare.”
The president has warned that this is a non-starter, and now the House and Senate are left with one week to thrash out a compromise.
Should they fail, several government agencies will close on October 1, placing hundreds of thousands of non-essential staff on unpaid leave.
Agencies are finalizing contingency plans.
The Pentagon said some civilian employees would be ordered to stay home, and Congress would have to ensure retroactive pay for civilians required to come to work.
“Military personnel would be paid but maybe not on time,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer sought to lay blame squarely on Republicans, some of whom he accused of caring “more about scoring political points on Obamacare than keeping the government open and our economy moving forward.
“This kind of up-to-the-final-hour brinksmanship is beyond irresponsible,” he said in an email to Obama supporters.
The White House’s Office of Management and Budget recently issued a memo on how agencies should plan for a “lapse in appropriations.”
The State Department also cautioned employees.
Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy fired off an email warning that a lapse could mean “a number of employees may be temporarily furloughed.”
Under a similar threat in 2011, the administration said 800,000 of roughly 2.1 million federal employees and contractors would be affected.
The Democratic-led Senate is expected to amend the House’s stopgap bill, which funds government at current levels until December 15, by removing the clause defunding Obamacare.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid set up a test vote for the bill this Wednesday, insisting he would not let Republican “fanatics” hold the government “hostage to their demands.”