Washington is braced for the first government shutdown in 17 years, which will happen at midnight tonight unless lawmakers manage to break the deadlock over funding and hammer out a deal. Here's what to expect from a day of drama in DC:
- The House has passed legislation to delay ObamaCare for a year and repeal a tax on medical devices, so the measure will return to the Senate this afternoon, just hours before the shutdown is due to kick in. Harry Reid is expected to table the anti-ObamaCare amendments with a simple Democratic majority and quickly send it back to the House—but if any opportunity arises for Senate Republicans to use delaying tactics, expect Ted Cruz to lead the way, the Wall Street Journal predicts.
- There's a chance of a straight up-or-down vote in the House, but if it becomes clear that it will be impossible to break the deadlock by midnight—which appears to be the likeliest scenario—the partial shutdown could still be averted if lawmakers pass a short-term funding bill to buy another week or so of debating time.
- So who will blink first? Neither Reid nor John Boehner appears likely to give way. Reid is determined to play hardball and not give an inch on ObamaCare, Politico reports. Reid and his allies believe that giving any concessions now will only lead to bigger concessions to avoid a debt default next month—and they think the backlash from a government shutdown will hit the GOP hardest. Boehner, meanwhile, will face the wrath of his party's conservatives if he gives way too soon—but polls show the public will blame his House Republicans if there is a shutdown.
- If there is a shutdown, it won't be an abrupt halt to government, but more "like a spending freeze that will gradually spread through the government like ice forming in water," Quartz explains. Federal employees, 800,000 of whom will be sent home without pay, will be the first affected, and the shutdown will also affect scientific research, trade negotiations, and the federal programs that guarantee home loans and provide capital to business. Air traffic controllers will still be at work, however, and agencies that deal with national security and law enforcement are exempt from the shutdown.
- A shutdown of a few days might not do too much damage, but experts warn that the national economy will take a serious hit if it is prolonged. In Washington, DC, however, even a brief shutdown will cost the district an estimated $200 million a day—and affect basic services like trash collection. "This is serious," the director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis tells the Washington Post. "The national economy may not notice a shutdown much unless it lasts three or four weeks. But for the Washington area, this is a tsunami."