WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives took the first step Tuesday toward shutting down the government, ordering all its members to draw up lists of staffers who will be furloughed.
And they have to be in by 5 p.m. Friday, April 8, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), chairman of the Committee on House Administration, ordered his fellow lawmakers in a "Dear Colleague" letter.
The government will run out of money at midnight Friday if Congress can't reach a deal to pass a new measure to keep the money flowing.
"Should Congress and the President fail to come to an agreement continuing appropriations for the Legislative Branch, non-essential House operations must be shut down effective April 9, 2011," Lungren wrote.
With just seven hours between Lungren's deadline and the potential shutdown, it was unclear how the various plans would be gathered or evaluated.
But in an accompanying 13-page package of guidance, the Committee explains that members of Congress are "employing authorities," and have the ultimate say on whom they retain as an "essential" employee, or furlough as "non-essential."
The basic barometer is whether the worker is vital to lawmakers carrying out their constitutional duties or needed to protect the safety of life or property. Capitol Police, for instance, would keep working, and presumably legislative staff.
"Activities that directly support Members' performance of their constitutional responsibilities would encompass, but are not limited to, such activities as vote tallying, bill and resolution drafting, parliamentary and legal advice and research, technical and technological support, and the like," the guidance says.
People such as constituent caseworkers may well fall outside that rule, potentially leaving voters with problems back home in the lurch.
Offices very likely to close include the House Gift Shop, the Capitol Visitors Center, the Smithsonian and the Flag Office.
And to make sure furloughed workers can resist the temptations of modern technology, the Committee said "employing offices may require furloughed employees to turn in their blackberries, laptops, and cell phones and should require furloughed employees to set an 'out of office' message on their email accounts."
Furloughed employees may be the lucky ones -- "essential" workers will have to show up, but won't get paid until after the shutdown ends.
"If you are an essential employee, failure to report for duty as required can result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination," the guidance warns.