Illinois lawmakers warn that a government shutdown would ripple through the state
Federal lawmakers from Illinois are calling on their Republican colleagues in the House to push a dozen appropriation bills over the finish line, in hopes of dodging a massive government shutdown. Congress has until Oct. 1 to pass them.
If Congress doesn’t pass a spending bill by then, hundreds of thousands of federal employees would be forced to work without pay or stop working at all, bringing government services to a halt.
Democratic Rep. Sean Casten says he and other lawmakers received a list of government employees who would be furloughed in the event of a shutdown, which includes about 244,000 people from the Department of Homeland Security.
“Which means people defending our borders, people working T.S.A. at the airports would just be sent home,” Casten said.
Here in Illinois, the department of revenue gets tax information from the IRS on a regular basis. Director David Harris says if the IRS were to shut down and put government employees out of work for a long time, that could have downstream consequences for the state.
“[The shutdown] clearly then impacts individual tax revenue, because 80% of our individual tax revenue comes from withholdings that people get in their paycheck,” Harris said. “If for some reason, people aren’t working for a period of time while the government is shut down. That lowers tax revenue to the state of Illinois.”
The Illinois Department of Human Services is also monitoring the situation in Washington, D.C. In a statement, the agency said it plans to conduct business as usual through October. But if the shutdown stretched into November, the agency says it would shift to state funding for a period of time.
The bills, which have already been passed by the Senate, call for funding several government agencies and services, such as the National Park Service and the Department of Defense.
A small group of far-right House Republicans has been trying to block the 12 spending bills as they move through different committees and threatening to oust Speaker Kevin McCarthy if he brings the bills — which were already agreed upon by leaders from both chambers in June — to the House floor.
The group, which includes representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, have been demanding steep budget cuts. This past Thursday, they voted against a defense appropriation bill — which included more than $13 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine — from advancing.
Casten says McCarthy is reluctant to alienate that group, so the speaker has been trying to appease them.
“Rather than saying to the Democrats and to the president, ‘We made a deal, let’s just go get this done and we’ll deal with it later,’ we’re careening into a shutdown,” Casten said.
He says it’s now up to McCarthy to honor the deal he made with party leadership and President Joe Biden earlier this summer.
“All of us are only as good as our word,” Casten said. “So anything short of honoring the deal that we agreed to in June is unacceptable. A government shutdown would disrupt the lives of 330 million Americans.”
Democratic Rep. Danny Davis held a press conference in Chicago earlier this week — joined by Democratic state senators Lakesia Collins, Mattie Hunter and state Rep. Yolanda Morris — echoing those sentiments.
Programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security are financed from other federal spending sources and would therefore not be affected by a shutdown. But Davis said a shutdown would complicate people’s lives.
“They might want to travel and they can’t get a passport processed,” Davis said. “The research that goes on at places like the National Institute of Health could stop. It’s so unfortunate.”
Agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency would also have to stop inspections. And the Department of Health and Human Services would no longer be able to award grants for Head Start, a program providing early childhood education to lower-income families.
Davis says a shutdown will also erode the public’s confidence in the federal government to perform basic functions.
That’s something John Shaw says has already been soured over the years.
“This just reinforces their worst concerns, their worst apprehensions,” said Shaw, the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, part of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. “Not only can the government not solve big problems like climate change, but it can’t even do the basics of keeping the government funded.”
There have been four federal shutdowns over the past 25 years, ranging from two days to nearly a month. Shaw says it’s not unusual for there to be a shutdown for a few days.
“Some of the conservative Republicans who are threatening it now, if this actually were to unfold, I think they would quickly find out that they’re not getting any political credit,” Shaw said. “So they would effectively in a relatively short time pass a temporary spending bill.”
Mawa Iqbal covers Illinois state government and politics for WBEZ. Follow her @mawa_iqbal.