What Is A Government Shutdown?

Washington is hurtling toward a government shutdown, as the time to agree on a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year runs out. So what is a government shutdown, anyway?

A government shutdown occurs when Congress fails to pass a spending bill and the government discontinues providing services that are not considered "essential." Typically, essential services include police, fire fighting, armed forces, utilities and corrections. Interestingly, Congress and the president are exempt from the furlough and continue to receive compensation despite the fact that other services are suspended.

Here's what will happen if Congress doesn't take action by midnight ET, and the government shuts down for the first time in 17 years:

• More than a third of federal employees would be furloughed. These furloughed employees would not be allowed to work at all (that includes checking work emails). Backpay for these furloughed workers is not guaranteed once the shutdown is over.

• Members of Congress would continue to work, as would air traffic controllers, law enforcement officers, members of the military and others deemed essential to national security.

• Social Security and Medicare payments would continue, since those are funded through a different process. But the benefits could be delayed, as workers at those agencies would be furloughed.

• The implementation of the Affordable Care Act would continue as normal.

• Smithsonian Museums would close, as would the Smithsonian's National Zoo (and its popular panda webcam).

• Federal Courts would continue to operate normally for about 10 days after a shutdown, after which furloughs of nonessential employees would begin.

• Mail delivery would continue as normal.

• The FDA would handle high risk recalls, but most routine food safety inspections would be suspended.

Below, live updates on the shutdown showdown: