Republican leaders in the House apparently remember the political fallout from their last government shutdown in 1995 & 1996 and don’t want to risk that backlash again.  The National Journal reports House leaders will introduce a two-week stopgap funding bill tomorrow that mirrors the 2011 budget they passed last weekend (which, by the way, has no chance of passage in the Senate):
“This approach reflects Boehner’s deep-seated belief that the 1995 Gingrich-led Congress risked everything in its shutdown confrontation with President Bill Clinton, and in the aftermath Republicans not only lacked the stomach to fight for more spending cuts, they veered in the opposite direction and targeted federal spending to vulnerable districts to protect the GOP majority.”
The Hill newspaper provides a bit of a history lesson in this glimpse back at what the 1996 shutdown meant for the Social Security administration:
“During the 1996 standoff, the Social Security Administration (SSA) initially kept 4,780 employees on, because they were in positions necessary to ensure that various benefits, including Social Security, continued to be paid. The remaining 61,415 employees were furloughed, according to the CRS report.  However, the SSA realized shortly afterward that it lacked the manpower to answer phone calls from customers needing new cards or requesting that their files be changed to reflect a news address for benefit checks.  Another 49,715 employees were brought back to help run the agency.”
If history is any predictor, then a government shutdown is clearly not good news for the 50 million Americans who depend on their Social Security checks to arrive as expected and need experienced SSA staff available to handle problems. But what’s also bad news for Social Security beneficiaries is the GOP’s new alternative to a shutdown – SSA cuts which would also furlough workers, cut administrative funding and increase the backlog of claims.  In short, the Republican solution being offered to America’s retirees, the disabled and survivors is furloughs, cuts and backlogs through a government shutdown or furloughs, cuts and backlogs through a draconian stop-gap bill which provides political cover but no relief for the average American. The latest 2-week proposal is the same budget bill House Republicans passed to fund the remainder of this year. Same 9.3% cut to the SSA budget – same devastating affects – just a shorter time frame.  Here’s Nancy Altman’s, of Social Security Works, description of the House-passed bill:
...the Republicans in the House of Representatives want to strip away $1.7 billion from the already underfunded agency, money that is needed simply to keep offices open. If the Republicans' budget plan goes through, the entire agency, including all 1,300 field offices might have to close for a month. A letter in anticipation of this has already been sent out to all employees. The phones would not be answered, and claims processing would halt. Even worse, given the well documented need to replace SSA's aging computer system, the Republicans' proposed cuts threaten the whole program, if the current system and its backup were to fail before the building of the new system, already behind schedule, were completed.”
Social Security Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Sander Levin(D-M) sums it up best:
“This Republican proposal is as irresponsible as it is shortsighted.  To jeopardize a lifeline for half a million new Social Security beneficiaries in order to score short-term political points is simply bad policy…It’s a perfect example of how little House Republicans seem to care if their rigid ideological crusade hurts real people.”
Lastly, you can see a full breakdown of SSA impacts under the GOP funding bill and the SSA letter urging a preparation for furloughs.