Apparently one of the rumors making the Election 2010 circuit is that if the Republicans do well (take the House, get a majority or a filibuster-certain minority in the Senate), the fight between Congress and the White House will result in a "government shutdown" next year.
I'd put the chances at better than even that there will be something called a "government shutdown" in 2011, 2012 or both. But like so many other words, "shutdown" is defined very differently inside the beltway than in the real world.
These "shutdowns" happen when the clock ticks to zero on appropriations and such -- when Congress hasn't sent the President a budget or spending bill, or when they've sent him one that he's unwilling to sign.
Unfortunately, most of Leviathan's "essential" funding is locked in through automatic procedures (read: Backroom deals to make sure the politicians don't screw the pooch and find themselves running down the street chased by crowds carrying torches and pitchforks) these days.
A "government shutdown" doesn't mean lights at out at the White House and padlocks on the Capitol's doors. It just means the suspension of "non-essential services."
During a "government shutdown," the Washington Monument closes up shop, but the Pentagon doesn't. The guy who dusts the clocks at the Social Security Administration may be furloughed (will he get paid for the time off when the "shutdown" gets resolved? You betcha!), but the people who operate the check printing machines won't be.
In other words, tastes great but less filling.
The question I used to ask my congresscritters, back when I was silly enough to think it might do some good or at least gain me some enlightenment, was "if those services aren't essential ('Important in the highest degree; indispensable to the attainment of an object; indispensably necessary' -- Webster's 1913), then why the hell are they funded through coercive taxation abdprovided by the public sector instead of the market in the first place?"
And no, I never got a satisfactory answer.