With a shutdown days away, Congress looks to regroup

Shutterstock image (Orhan Cam): U.S. Capitol at night. 

Warnings about a partial government shutdown are nothing new to feds, but the chances of the first closure and furloughs since 2013 appear to have increased this week in the wake of news that President Donald Trump slammed immigrants from "shithole countries" at a White House meeting with lawmakers and government officials.

The multiple controversies swirling around the comments are making a bipartisan immigration deal on young people with temporary protected status less likely. That, in turn, puts any bipartisan deal on 2018 funding in jeopardy and even puts at risk another short-term continuing resolution to buy time for negotiations.

The current continuing resolution funding the government is set to expire at midnight on Jan. 19.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, argued that the ball is squarely in the Republican's court when it comes to funding the government.

"Republicans control the House, they control the Senate and they control the presidency. The government stays open if they want it to stay open and shuts down if they want it to shut down," he said.

But speaking to reporters on Jan. 16 on the White House lawn, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders accused Democrats of milking the controversy around the remarks to avoid compromise on Trump's immigration priorities.

"I think they're using it as an excuse not to help this president get something accomplished, which I think is a sad day for our country."

On Twitter, Trump has been calling out his political opponents. "The Democrats want to shut down the Government over Amnesty for all and Border Security. The biggest loser will be our rapidly rebuilding Military, at a time we need it more than ever," he tweeted on Jan. 16. "We need a merit based system of immigration, and we need it now! No more dangerous Lottery."

Some senior lawmakers are trying to cool tensions in their public remarks.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)  and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the majority whip, have said they don't think there's going to be a shutdown.

"We should all be kicked out if that happens," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters.

On NBC's Meet the Press on Jan 14, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) sidestepped questions about whether he thought Democrats should decline to support a short-term funding bill if a deal to continue legal protections for immigrants under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy isn't reached.

"It should not come to that. We should stop shutting this government down," Bennet said. 

Republicans are putting together another short-term continuing resolution to fund the government through mid-February. The last such bill passed the House on Dec. 22 on a vote of 231-188, as lawmakers were looking to depart for the holiday recess. The vote was mostly on  party lines, with 16 Republicans voting against the stopgap funding measure and just 14 Democrats supporting it.

It's not clear whether another funding bill absent an immigration deal can draw even that modest level of Democratic support. But defense hawks on the right don’t want to get further into fiscal year 2018 without increasing military spending as called for in the National Defense Authorization Act. These and other forces could peel off votes needed to get even a short-term bill through the House.

"It is extremely difficult to convince our caucus members to vote for another short-term funding mechanism," Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus said on CNN on Jan 15.

Many large agencies are operating on shutdown guidance from 2015, including the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Energy, Education, Labor and Health and Human Services. The agency contingency plans provide information on who is required to work during a lapse in appropriations and who is subject to furlough.

The government has shut down 18 times since 1976, most recently a two-week closure in 2013. The longest shutdown lasted 21 days from late 1995 to early 1996 under President Bill Clinton. Congress has voted in each case to award feds back pay for time spent on furlough.

Reps. 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.

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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