Win tickets to see the smash hit musical Mamma Mia at the Roanoke Civic Center. Two winners will each receive four tickets!
Readin goes right here and here for the readin. Please enter a readin for this story right here.
The Capitol in Washington is seen under an overcast sky at dawn on Monday.
Monday, October 14, 2013
Q: Who has the authority to shut down the government?
Edgar Mullins, Roanoke
A: This is a really important question. Even if an agreement were (has been) reached to reopen the federal government, there is nothing to stop it from happening again in the near future, so it’s good for citizens to understand what’s actually happening.
Because I am trying not to upset anyone with this week’s column, I’m going to try to answer without resorting to sarcasm. Regular readers will note that this is not an easy task for me. As a former civics teacher, I’m going to try to just present the facts and some background and let the readers make the jokes. The information below has been compiled from a wide variety of news sources, in an attempt to cook the answer down into something that fits in this space.
“The government” is a broad term that encompasses all of the things that are made possible by the collection and distribution of tax dollars in the United States, so everything from the military to national parks to food inspectors to NASA all get lumped together under it.
According to the Constitution, it’s Congress’ job to come up with a budget each year that funds the things that government does. These tasks have been assigned to various departments by legislation passed by the congress and signed by the president, with a few exceptions like executive orders.
Executive orders are policies put into place by a sitting president that are in effect only during his or her term in office. The president doesn’t have the authority to keep the entire government operating, since the Constitution specifically grants budgeting authority to Congress.
The fiscal year for the federal government runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, and if Congress does not pass a budget that is signed by the president by October 1, then the country is operating without the authorization to spend tax money, and the government begins to shut down. Congress and the president can also agree to something called continuing resolutions, which allow the government to continue to function under the previous year’s budget until a new one can be approved.
Since the House of Representatives and the Senate are unable to agree on a budget that can be sent to the president for his signature, the government lacks the authority to spend money on anything deemed “nonessential.”
There are some exceptions to the furloughs of federal employees. The Justice Department has interpreted federal law to allow for exemptions for some. Those deemed necessary to protect health, safety or property are required to show up for work. This interpretation will keep “essential personnel” on the job at the CIA and FBI and in the military, as well as food inspectors, people who process Social Security checks, and congressional representatives and their staffs.
Many will be paid, but some federal employees, like my neighbor in federal law enforcement, are going to work without pay until the furlough is over, despite the fact that their mortgages and electric bills won’t stop while they’re not getting paid.
Some Republicans in the House are refusing to agree to a budget that funds the Affordable Care Act, which was passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president in 2010, and upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court last year. Democratic senators and the president refuse to consider a budget that includes language that defunds the act, also called Obamacare, and Speaker of the House John Boehner refuses to allow the House to vote on a bill that does not include provisions defunding the act.
So the simple answer to your question is that while no one is specifically given the authority to shut down the government, it’s the practical outcome of a failure of Congress to pass a budget or for the President to sign one sent to him.
Note: this column was written during the shutdown. The optimist in me is assuming that by the time you read it, the country is once again humming along like a well-oiled and well-funded machine.
If you’ve been wondering about something, call “What’s on Your Mind?” at 777-6476 or send an email to email@example.com. Don’t forget to provide your full name, its proper spelling and your hometown.
Look for Tom Landon’s column on Mondays. Visit the blog at blogs.roanoke.com/whatsonyourmind.
Weather JournalStorm track isn't very snowy for us