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Obama administration report details cost of last month's shutdown

President Barack Obama’s budget chief Sylvia Mathews Burwell said Thursday that last month’s 16-day partial shutdown of the federal government cost taxpayers more than $2.5 billion for work that furloughed federal employees never got a chance to do.

At the peak of the furloughs, about 850,000 workers -- 40 percent of the civilian federal workforce -- were not at work, Burwell said, although that number dropped once Congress passed the Pay Our Military Act, and 400,000 workers returned to their jobs.

A report from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) found that federal employees were furloughed for a combined total of 6.6 million work days.

“The cost of pay due to federal employees furloughed during the shutdown is roughly $2.0 billion; total compensation costs are about 30 percent larger (about $2.5 billion),” the report said.

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On a conference call with reporters, Burwell pushed back at one reporter who wondered whether the Obama administration was releasing the report because the effects of the shutdown were underappreciated since Americans had seen the economy keep running during the 16-day work hiatus. “One thing that did come out of the shutdown is a greater appreciation” for services that the federal government provides, Burwell said.

The OMB report cited specific disruptions to regulations and other federal operations. For example, it said, “banks and other lenders could not access government income and Social Security Number verification services. Two weeks into the shutdown, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had an inventory of 1.2 million verification requests that could not be processed, potentially delaying approval of mortgages and other loans.”

Since the shutdown ended three weeks ago it has been eclipsed by news coverage of the botched debut of the Affordable Care Act website. But taking note of the damage done to their party by the shutdown, some Republicans are eager to avert another interruption of funding which would trigger another government shutdown. The current spending bill ends its funding on Jan. 15, 2014.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is pushing his End Government Shutdowns Act, which would automatically continue spending at the prior year’s level in the event that any appropriations bill for a fiscal year isn’t enacted before the beginning of that fiscal year, or if Congress hasn’t passed a larger catch-all spending bill.

But politically the shutdown proved to be an advantage for Obama and the Democrats – Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe used the shutdown’s effects on his state in his campaign speeches and the issue may have helped him win the election on Tuesday. So Democrats might be reluctant to unilaterally give up a source of political leverage over congressional Republicans.

Asked about the Portman bill, Burwell said the best way to avoid another shutdown is “pass a budget and pass the appropriations bills that fund the government on a regular basis.”

A House-Senate budget committee is now meeting to try to devise a budget plan for Fiscal Year 2014 which began on Oct. 1.