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How the Government Shutdown May Impact You

What the federal budget battles, spending cuts and possible default on the national debt could do to Social Security, Medicare and more

The US Capitol Building seen through a fence at night. How a government shutdown could impact you.

The U.S. Government is partially closed for business. — Bill O'Leary/Washington Post/Getty Images

En español | Only months ago the nation teetered on the "fiscal cliff" until Congress and President Obama reached a deal to stave off calamity.

Here we are again. You probably recognize a number of factors in the latest fiscal crisis, which so far hasn't gotten a clever moniker like "fiscal cliff."

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The 3 Major Trigger Points

  • Oct. 1: Funding to continue running the country expired, meaning that much of the government is shut down.

  • Mid-October: Uncle Sam has more bills than cash to pay them; the U.S. Treasury, unable to borrow more money, can no longer pay all of its obligations and reaches the point of default.

  • 5 days after this session of Congress ends (late December to mid-January): The second round of sequestration, the 10-year series of automatic spending cuts that pared the 2013 budget by about $85 billion, takes a similar bite in 2014.

What does all this mean for you? We take a look at 20 questions and the possible answers.

1. How could Washington have prevented a government shutdown?

Congress could have funded the government past Sept. 30, the last day of the 2013 fiscal year. Lawmakers could have passed a temporary funding bill, called a continuing resolution.

2. How long might a shutdown last?

The 15 shutdowns since 1977 have ranged from three days to 21 days.

3. Is the entire federal government closing?

Not all of it. By law, essential government services relating to public safety and national security must continue. This means that the military, air traffic controllers, the Border Patrol, the FBI, prison guards and many other U.S. government employees will remain on duty. But many facilities will close and many services will be unavailable. In a five-day shutdown in 1995, 800,000 federal employees were told not to report to work. Several weeks later, 240,000 employees were furloughed in a 21-day shutdown.

4. Will Social Security benefit payments stop coming?

Social Security recipients will probably be largely unaffected by a shutdown. Checks for seniors, those with disabilities and survivors will go out as usual. But Social Security Administration employees could face furloughs.

Next page: What happens to Medicare, post offices, national parks. »

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