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What's the cost of a government shutdown?

The longest government shutdown lasted 34 days and is estimated to have cost the U.S. government some $3 billion.
What's the cost of a government shutdown?
Posted at 11:09 AM, Sep 25, 2023

Much of Washington is starting the countdown clock to a possible government shutdown at the end of this week. And while we've had government shutdowns in the past, this one just might be the costliest.

There have been 20 government shutdowns since 1976, when the current budget-making process was enacted. That's an average of one shutdown every two to three years.

The longest shutdown lasted 34 days, from Dec. 22, 2018, to Jan. 25, 2019, when former President Donald Trump wanted more funding for a border wall. But over the years, the average shutdown has lasted about eight days.

SEE MORE: House Republicans in turmoil as government shutdown looms

The biggest immediate impact from a government shutdown is always on federal workers. Some are deemed essential while others are nonessential. Some work without pay and others don't work at all.

During the 2018-2019 shutdown, 380,000 federal workers were furloughed, and 420,000 worked without pay. The cost of that shutdown was about $3 billion, but there's a chance that a shutdown this weekend could be even more expensive.

Political division on Capitol Hill could make a hypothetical shutdown the longest and therefore costliest ever. However, there's a new risk with this one: the country's credit rating.

Earlier this year, the credit agency Fitch downgraded the U.S. from AAA credit rating to AA+, citing "a steady deterioration in standards of governance." And a lengthy government shutdown could prompt other agencies, like Moody's, to downgrade the U.S., too.

Credit downgrades can impact interest rates and force some investors who are required to put money in places with AAA ratings to look elsewhere, hurting the U.S. economy even further.

SEE MORE: Buttigieg says government shutdown would impact air travel

Meanwhile, things like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will still remain available in the event of a shutdown. Back pay to any federal employee or member of the military is also required under federal law once the government opens back up.

However, the White House says some 10,000 children could lose access to Head Start preschool spots during a shutdown. Food safety inspections by the FDA and passport applications by the State Department could also face delays.

In the meantime, everyone from the White House to the Senate to the House of Representatives says they need to pass a short-term spending measure to keep the government open past Sept. 30. If the House fails to pass even a short-term spending measure to keep the government from shutting down, the shutdown could occur as soon as Saturday. 

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