143-year-old law puts fear in officials during shutdown

CNBC – by Steve Liesman

Administration officials now live in fear of a 19th-century law that could get them fired, penalized or even imprisoned if they make the wrong choices while the government is shut down.

The law is the Antideficiency Act, passed by Congress in 1870 (and amended several times), which prohibits the government from incurring any monetary obligation for which the Congress has not appropriated funds.  

In shutting down the government, most memos cite the law as the reason. The Government Accountability Office says employees who violate the Antideficiency Act may be subject to disciplinary action, suspension and even “fines, imprisonment, or both.”

CNBC has learned that in several executive branch departments, high-level staff members review individual decisions about what government activities to allow for fear of running afoul of the Antideficiency Act. One White House official said he has advised his employees not to check their email or cellphones. Under the act, even volunteering for government service is expressly prohibited.

In a memo to his department employees today, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew cited the law as the reason for reduced staffing.

“For the duration of this impasse, as required by the Antideficiency Act and directed by OMB, the Department will be required to operate with only the minimal staffing level necessary to execute only certain legally exempted activities,” Lew wrote.

The only exemptions to the shutdown concern “emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property,” according to government documents. That has meant airports and the Postal Service are open, Social Security checks get paid and federal prisons and courts will operate as normal as do most national security functions including the military and the Central Intelligence Agency. But national parks and museums are closed along with big parts of the departments of Education and Commerce

Congress passed the law as part of a struggle—dating back to the nation’s founding—for control over the power of the purse. Some presidents, such as Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, would incur obligations for which Congress had to appropriate funds after the fact.

What is ironic is that Congress in shutting down the government has to at least to some extent given up the power of the purse to the executive branch. Under the broad guidelines of what constitutes an emergency or threat to life or property, OMB now more or less decides what gets funded and what doesn’t. But that latitude is limited by the fear of officials that, sometime after the event, a given decision is found to have been in violation of the Antideficiency Act.

By CNBC’s Steve Liesman. Follow him on Twitter: @steveliesman


8 thoughts on “143-year-old law puts fear in officials during shutdown

  1. I kind of doubt Barry Odumbo gives two hoots about the Antideficiency Act. He hasn’t cared about any other law he has broken in the past.
    Now if I were a communist muslim, controlled by a luciferian zionist cabal bent on the destruction of America, I would use this opportunity to completely dissolve Congress and officially declare martial law and declare myself Empress of America.
    I can hear my speech now…”It’s clear to me and apparent to the world that the Congress no longer functions as a governing body… blah, blah, blahdeblah…” and the zombies who worship me will eat it up.
    Utilizing the parts of the military and national guard that I had managed to replace and subvert along with the U.N. troops and DHS and TSA and watch the civil war break out and watch the dominoes fall. A few well placed tactical nukes and some drones firing hellfire missiles to take out a good chunk of the patriot opposition. Hey, what do I care? I’m hell bent on destroying America, Remember?
    Meanwhile my Zionist masters remain safely hidden and watch the violent implosive destruction of America and laugh with hellish glee.
    I guess it’s a good thing Obumbles is too busy tripping over his own puppet strings and is to dumb to think of any of this.

  2. Title Of This Article Should Be:

    “Law Puts Fear Into Officials!!!,…. BHhahahahahahahhahahaha!!!!”

    Yeah,.. the same officals that refuse to arrest Eric Holder for murder?, or Criminal Obama for being a complete fraud and illegal President?, or shutting down any of the THOUSANDS of illegal gov’t agencies???,.. or stopping any of the ten thousand per day criminal acts this gov’t committs at the International,.. National, State, municipality, or even township level???

    Those officials??

    JD – US Marines – The only thing that will put fear into them at this point,… is when they feel that hemp rope get cinched nice and tight around their necks just before the floor is about to drop out from under them!

  3. The Constitution of the United States never stopped Monkey King before, WTF makes one believe it will now? A bunch of drunken, lard-azzed self-serving Republicans?

  4. JD said it very well…….!

    This govt aint scared of no dayum Law…..they been breaking it since…..ummm…ummmahhhh……..after the ink was dry on the BOR!
    Only thing they fear is Americas finest generation setting the spark that causes US to annihilate their existence from this earth.
    Now the Question is…when will we do it? how many more lines in the sand do we draw?….. Our Founders said they “Feared” for the Republic……….I understand way and what they meant………America has become a great big Pus*y.

  5. Too bad the sherriffs office wasnt closed down.
    Had a gun pulled on me yesterday. I guess I startled him when he was about to shoot the dog that was barking that someone had pulled in. I went around the house and asked what they wanted. They were there to serve an eviction from three months ago to people who dont live there anymore and even forced the now owner of the property to vacate. Hate cops.

    They dont like when they ask “are there any weapons in the house?” and you reply “that does not concern you”

    I wonder if he could tell it wasnt my first time having a gun pointed at me.

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