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Washington and much of the rest of the nation are bracing themselves as Congress hurtles toward a potential government shutdown. Funding for the government will run out after March 4, and unless Congress acts to extend it most federal operations will cease.
No one knows for sure what precisely would happen in a government shutdown. "It's not as if there's a manual on how to do this," said Stan Collender, a former Congressional staffer and expert of the federal budget. Ultimately, it would come down to the White House deciding which operations are "essential" for protecting life or preserving property, and which operations can be shuttered. There have been several funding lapses since the 1980s, including a three-week standoff which stretched from December1995 into January 1996.