Government shutdown 2023: How it affects Texans

The LBJ Presidential Library may be the most visible location in Austin to be at risk of closing because of a potential government shutdown beginning Oct 1. 

The doors were locked during the last budget stalemate in 2018. The idea that history is about to repeat itself is frustrating to people like Maria Brooks.

"Yes, it's definitely getting old. But, you know, if we could learn to work together and play nice like kindergartners, then, you know, I feel like a lot more we get accomplished," said Brooks. 

Across Central Texas, thousands of federal employees could be furloughed during the shutdown. Those facing paycheck limbo include:

  • TSA agents & ATC at ABIA
  • IRS processors
  • Federal court staff
  • Military employees and federal contractors at Futures Command and Fort Cavazos in Killeen.

The last shut down, which ran into the first part of 2019, lasted a little more than a month. Brian Smith with St. Edward’s University doesn’t think a new shutdown will last as long.

"I don't see it lasting that long. But again, if I'm a government worker who's been furloughed, and I'm not receiving my pay, that's a problem," Smith said. "If I'm a community that relies on the government and the responsibilities and jobs that it does to help support my community, I'm going to feel that. And it's when things like that, when it starts hitting people's pocketbook, when budget shutdowns start hitting the pocketbooks of everyday Americans. That's when America demands action."

Some government assistance programs, like WIC, could be delayed. The Central Texas Food Bank is gearing up to help families in need. When the shutdown ends federal employees will get back pay. But federal contractors typically are not compensated for being off the job. Those who support a government shutdown claim its necessary to get government spending under control. 

"We know who loses, and that's the United States," Smith said. "If the government shuts down, it costs the taxpayers' money. And it costs all of us money in lost revenue and providing essential goods and services. Politically, the winners only get a short, brief period of winning. The losers, again, get a short period of losing."

The idea of using government workers as political bargaining chips comes with some risk for political backlash.

"I think if they get off the stick up there, they've got the money. If every senator loses his salary, they do it real quick," said Earnest Willis, who was dropping off mail at the Cedar Park Post Office. 

The U.S. Postal Office will continue to be delivered, but some fall trips to Texas National Parks may have to be rescheduled if a shutdown happens. 

In 2018, Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park in west Texas remained open but with limited services. The buildings at the Johnson National Historical Park near Fredericksburg were also closed.

A new variable in resolving the current budget fight is the crisis along the border with Mexico. 

"This is an issue that could force a solution because the border we know that it affects Texas more acutely than other places, but it's something a lot of Americans are concerned about," said Smith. "And this isn't just some of the differences on issues that they're never going to agree upon. This is something that the United States has a responsibility to deal with. So we might get some compromise."

Reaching a compromise faces a big procedural hurdle known as the Hastert Rule, named for former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert. It prevents the speaker from calling for a vote without the Majority of their Political Party agreeing to the legislation before a full vote.

"We know that the current Speaker, McCarthy, could get a budget deal passed, but he would have to get Democrats to agree with him," Smith said. "And the Republican caucus doesn't want that. They want it to be done by the Party. And because of that, that's why we're seeing the Republicans really kind of slow on the process."

Negotiating a compromise with members of an opposing party to move legislation is currently a key part of a bitter fight between Republicans in the Texas House. That Lone Star GOP Civil War appears to be playing out in the Congressional impasse.  

"The Republican Right has said if (Speaker) McCarthy goes outside the Party, then they might look for another Speaker," Smith said. "And we know that he got elected through a very, very controversial long process. So, he has to decide, do I want to push this further and anger my party or do I want to try to get something agreed with within the party, and at what political cost."

There have been 14 government funding shutdowns since 1980, most lasted less than a week. The fight only affects a third of the overall federal budget and essential government services remain open. The Government will not stop Social Security checks and payments for Medicare and Medicaid.