Will the government shut down for the holidays? Stay tuned.

question mark made of dollar 

The federal workforce is facing a partial government shutdown if an appropriations bill or funding extension isn't passed by midnight on Dec. 22.

House leaders scrapped a plan to extend government operations through mid-January while fully funding defense at 2018 levels, and appear to be settling for an uncomplicated short-term solution.

Nothing was finalized after a late-afternoon meeting of the House Republican conference on Dec. 20, but it appears that leaders are hoping to pass a bill to extend government operations through Jan 19. Additionally, there may be a few focused spending bumps, called "anomalies" in appropriations jargon, to allow the Pentagon to pursue high-priority projects. The short-term bill apparently will not include action on the many legislative priorities competing for the attention of lawmakers late in the year.

The exception to that might be an extension of surveillance authorities under section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which are set to expire at the end of the year.

A short-term extension of the 702 authorities is all that seems plausible. Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) promised to block consideration of any funding bill that includes a long-term extension of 702. Civil libertarians in both chambers of Congress are seeking changes to the way spy intercepts on Americans are handled by intelligence agencies and law enforcement.

The House Rules Committee scrapped plans to meet late on Dec. 20 to work out a final proposal. That meeting is set for the morning of Dec. 21, although it is possible the funding bill could get a vote that same day. House Republicans are feeling the heat to avoid a shutdown in the wake of their successful passage of a tax overhaul.

"I can't think of a bigger act of political malpractice after a successful tax reform vote than to shut the government down," said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.)

In a late-afternoon letter to her colleagues, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that Democrats would need to have their policy priorities addressed in order to support any funding measure.

Democrats in the House and Senate are looking for reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program, continued legal status for immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, opioid crisis funding, an extension of the Choice Act allowing veterans to seek care in the community and more.

"Unless we see a respect for our values and priorities, we continue to urge a strong NO on the Continuing Resolution," Pelosi wrote in the letter, which was circulated to reporters just before the GOP meeting.

Also in the mix is an $81 billion disaster relief bill that was floated as part of a funding extension. Democrats have complained that Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are being shortchanged in the measure, and lawmakers from Texas, Louisiana and Florida – all hard hit by autumn hurricanes – are also seeking more funding. However, many in the most conservative bloc of the GOP are insisting that any supplemental disaster appropriation be paid for by spending reductions elsewhere in the federal ledger.

With no Democratic votes in the mix, Republican leaders need to marshal a large majority of GOP votes – a tricky proposition in a caucus that includes hard-core defense hawks who want the Pentagon fully funded at levels budgeted in 2018 defense bill, fiscal hawks who want pay-fors on disaster spending, and moderates looking for common ground with Democrats on immigration and children's health insurance.

Still, Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council at the White House said at a Dec. 20 event hosted by Axios that he expects a funding extension to pass, allowing Congress to leave town for the weekend.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Fox News that President Trump does not favor a shutdown.

"I think that the right thing to do is, let's get a short-term funding and we'll deal with these issues in January," Mnuchin said.

With a possible shutdown looming, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.) introduced a bill Dec. 20 to guarantee back pay for furloughed feds in the event of a lapse in appropriations.

"Preparing the retroactive pay legislation sends a signal to our federal workers that they won't be forgotten in the unfortunate event of a shutdown," Wittman said.

If a shutdown does occur, most feds won't notice for a few days, because of the weekend and the Christmas holiday. But agency leaders will have to being putting their shutdown plans into place fairly quickly. Many large agencies including Defense, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Energy, Education, Labor and Housing and Urban Development haven't published updates to their shutdown plans since 2015.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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