WASHINGTON -- The government may have "shut down" from lack of money, but don't expect it to affect your life until Tuesday at the earliest -- unless you were planning on touring the White House or visiting a national park or battlefield.
Those attractions are expected to be closed, along with all others run by the National Park Service, until Congress and the president agree on a budget plan. But mail will still be delivered today, no matter what does or doesn't happen, and air traffic controllers will still be on the job throughout the weekend.
Because of the Monday federal holiday for Columbus Day (which will keep mail carriers off the job, as it always does), the moment of truth for government services won't come until Tuesday. It's then that things could get complicated, depending on what Congress does or doesn't do in the meantime.
There are two possibilities, with differing impacts:
* If Congress works out a new budget plan over the weekend that satisfies the White House and cuts $50 billion from the deficit, then everything will go back to normal on Tuesday, thanks to the so-called "continuing resolution" that Congress enacted last night to pay the government's bills and salaries until there is time to approve the finer points of the agreement.
* If Congress hasn't reached an agreement by Tuesday, then the shutdown that began last night at midnight will begin to have some effects.
All "non-essential" federal employees would be sent home from work as soon as they reported. But federal contingency plans would keep air traffic controllers, National Weather Service employees and other "essential" workers on the job. Employees responsible for making sure that benefits are paid also would continue working, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
Areas considered "essential" are those dealing with national security, benefits payments and the protection of life and property -- including medical care, public health and safety, air traffic control and law enforcement. Also, programs with contractual agreements with the government would continue operating.
The only group likely to feel much discomfort, in the short term, would be the non-working federal employees, who wouldn't be getting paid.