On Tuesday, the federal government shut down, with agencies instructing approximately 800,000 "non-essential" employees to stay home. During the shut down, these employees are furloughed, not working and not receiving pay. Additional "essential" employees, including law enforcement, emergency personnel, and others are expected to report to work, but will see their paychecks delayed. The shutdown came as a result of the Senate and House being unable to agree on a continuing resolution (CR) that would keep the government funded. The House has repeatedly passed a CR that includes provisions to repeal or defund parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but the Senate has refused to accept the House's CRs and has sent them back with the language regarding the ACA stripped out. Democratic Congressional leaders have called on House Republicans, particularly on Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to pass a "clean" CR that would extend funding with no additional provisions.
As the shut down has played out this week, several consequences have been widely reported on, including a group of WWII veterans who were initially unable to visit the WWII memorial, and a National Institutes of Health clinical trial for cancer treatment that has had to stop treatment of nearly two hundred patients, including dozens of children. In response to these types of reports, the House has voted on legislation that would carve out certain programs to exempt them from the shutdown, including re-opening national parks, memorials and museums, fund the NIH study, fund the National Weather Service, and fund Food and Drug Administration food inspectors, all of which have been suspended during the shut down. Another bill likely to be introduced would ensure that furloughed workers receive retroactive pay for the period the government has been shut down. On Thursday, Senate Democrats flatly rejected to consider any legislation prior to a "clean continuing resolution for the entire government", noting that "is something that is already over in the House and reportedly has the support of a majority of the Members of the House of Representatives." In other words, Democratic leadership believes that if Boehner were to put a clean CR up for a vote in the House, there would be enough Republican representatives that would join Democrats in voting for it that it would pass.
Some sources have reported that Boehner is seeking a "grand bargain" on fiscal issues as the debt ceiling deadline of October 17 approaches. On Wednesday, the Speaker held a series of meetings with legislators, looking to build consensus on the approach towards a larger budget package that will include raising the debt ceiling. Meanwhile, the House and Senate are poised to work over the weekend, though there does not appear to be movement on either side towards an agreement. House Republicans have criticized Senate Democrats for refusing to negotiate, and Senate Democrats have said they will not negotiate on the ACA, which is settled law, or on anything else until the government is back to full operations.
Furloughed federal employees are waiting this out, prohibited by law from checking their work emails or performing other work functions, hoping to be able to return to work next week. The White House maintains a list of agency contingency plans for federal shutdowns. That list is found here.