Social Security and Medicare aren't funded by the spending bill tied up in the government-shutdown showdown, meaning that they would be affected only at the margins.
Bradley C. Bower/AP/File
Thankfully, that's not what would occur, even if a budget deadlock causes a so-called "government shutdown" to begin at midnight on April 8.
Politicians, after all, know that retirees are counting on Social Security and Medicare. And, oh yes, they vote.
These programs are viewed as essential services that would continue to make payments even as many other federal operations halt. And unlike typical federal programs, these mandatory entitlements have their own streams of revenue from payroll taxes, which require no congressional vote to authorize.
Still, even as these high-priority programs continue to make payments for beneficiaries, a shutdown might force them to pare back on staffing levels. That could mean that some phones go unanswered, and that new enrollees face delays in getting benefits launched.
Federal agencies have been tight-lipped about their specific emergency plans if House Republicans, Senate Democrats, and President Obama can't reach a deal to fund the government for the rest of fiscal year 2011, which ends Sept. 30.