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Shutdown may delay pay, refunds

The Associated Press. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, center, flanked by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., left, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday after meeting to work on a budget deal and avoid a government shutdown.

The Associated Press. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, center, flanked by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., left, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday after meeting to work on a budget deal and avoid a government shutdown.

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration warned Wednesday that a federal shutdown would undermine the economic recovery, delay pay to U.S. troops fighting in three wars, slow the processing of tax returns and limit small business loans and government-backed mortgages during peak home buying season.

The dire message, delivered two days before the federal government's spending authority expires, appeared aimed at jolting congressional Republicans into a budget compromise. Billions of dollars apart, congressional negotiators were working to strike a deal by Friday to avert a shutdown by setting spending limits through the end of September. The last such shutdown took place 15 years ago and lasted 21 days.

President Barack Obama telephoned House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday, and Boehner's office said the speaker told Obama he was hopeful a deal could be reached.

As the talks continued, the White House sought to put the prospect of a shutdown in terms people would care about, warning even that the beloved National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade in the nation's capital would be wiped out. The Smithsonian Institution and national parks around the country would also be closed.

A shutdown would come at an especially busy time for the Smithsonian. The Cherry Blossom Festival, which concludes this weekend, draws many tourists to an area near the museums. The Smithsonian counts about 3 million visits each April and has already sold 23,000 IMAX movie and lunch combos to school groups for the month.

Under long-standing federal rules, agencies would not be affected that provide for U.S. national security, dispense most types of federal benefit payments, offer inpatient medical care or outpatient emergency care, ensure the safe use of food and drugs, manage air traffic, protect and monitor borders and coastlines, guard prisoners, conduct criminal investigations and law enforcement, oversee power distribution and oversee banks.

Mail deliveries would continue in the event of a shutdown. U.S. postal operations are not subsidized by tax dollars.

According to the shutdown scenario described by the administration, the government would have to significantly cut staffing across the executive branch, including workers at the White House and civilian employees at the Defense Department; close to 800,000 workers would be affected. Congress and the federal court system will also be subject to a shutdown.

At the Pentagon, defense officials were finalizing plans that would lay out how the department would deal with a shutdown. But they already have acknowledged that U.S. military troops -- including those in war zones -- would receive one week's pay instead of two in their next paycheck if the government were to close.

Military personnel at home and abroad would continue to earn pay, but they wouldn't get paychecks until there was a budget agreement and government operations resumed.

Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said that the Pentagon would be open on Monday and would be staffed. He said decisions on which Defense Department employees must report to work would depend on their jobs, rather than where they were based.