Here we go again. Congress is stumbling toward a financial deadline that could throw a lot of our lives into chaos, at least for a while.
Sadly, this is not new. When I worked on Capitol Hill in the days when Republicans and Democrats actually worked together (yes, that did happen long, long ago), lawmakers still dragged their feet and put off necessary and real duties until the absolute last minute.
But Congress has gotten worse since I left Washington, D.C. (I’m not saying my departure was the cause, but …). In 2011, the debt ceiling fight came down to the wire. We went off the fiscal cliff for a couple of hours earlier this year. And on March 1, sequester budget cuts kicked in because Congress, with an almost two-year lead time, could not agree on less drastic budget cuts.
Some political pundits are putting the odds of the first full-scale government shutdown since 1995 at around 60 percent. I’m clinging to what’s left of my dissipating faith in humanity and predicting that a deal will be reached to keep Uncle Sam operating.
But just in case I’m wrong — it happens now and again, but don’t tell my husband! — here’s how a government closure could affect you and me.
Essential services remain
The most important thing to remember is that essential federal services will continue.
This means that Social Security and Medicare payments will continue. So you don’t have to worry about floating your elderly mom or dad a loan.
Most folks in a federal uniform will stay at work. This includes active duty military, Border Patrol agents, federal prison guards, Transportation Security Administration personnel and air traffic controllers. All of these individuals do jobs that, if abandoned, would “imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property.”
Civilian employees at the Pentagon and other military installations, however, wouldn’t be as lucky. They likely would be furloughed until Congress authorized spending.
And even those essential workers still clocking in Oct. 1 and beyond would have to do some budget juggling. They don’t get paychecks during a shutdown, but all the money owed to them is made up in paychecks issued after the government opens its doors again. Furloughed workers, however, simply lose their pay.
Tax deadlines still in place
What about the most important thing to all of us — taxes? Hey, you are reading a tax blog, so don’t quibble with my characterization!
If you received an extension until Oct. 15 to file your 2012 tax return, that deadline remains in force. Miss it, and nonfiling penalties and interest will start accruing.
Businesses also must keep up with their tax deadlines, such as submission of payroll taxes.
If, however, you need help from the Internal Revenue Service to complete your tax tasks, you best call or visit a local IRS office by Sept. 30. Starting Oct. 1, some services could be limited or unavailable, as when IRS employees were furloughed during the summer sequester.
And if you’re expecting a tax refund and it doesn’t show up by the end of this month, you’ll be waiting even longer for it.
I hope Congress will get its act together and ensure that our government continues operating without a break. But just in case, be prepared.
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Veteran contributing editor Kay Bell is the author of the book “The Truth About Paying Fewer Taxes” and a co-author of the e-book “Future Millionaires’ Guidebook.”