Pay raise, MGT wrapped up in border wall fight

As President Trump and lawmakers wrangle over funding for a border wall, a partial government shutdown looms.

U.S. Capitol (Photo by M DOGAN / Shutterstock)
 

While lawmakers rushed to fund the military, the legislative branch and several civilian agencies in advance of the November elections, many cabinet agencies are still getting by on a continuing resolution that expires Dec. 7.

Congress must pass appropriations bills or a new continuing resolution covering the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, State, Transportation and Treasury, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and others, before the deadline or those parts of the government will shut down.

The big sticking point: President Donald Trump is insisting on $5 billion for a proposed wall on the border of the U.S. and Mexico.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said at a Nov. 27 press conference that "we're trying to get the president the money he would like for the wall."

However, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he was sticking to a deal struck earlier in the year for $1.6 billion in border security funding.

"If there's any shutdown, it's on President Trump's back," Schumer told reporters on Nov. 27. "We're not negotiating in the press," he added.

House Republicans met with Trump the same day, and in their volleys to reporters outside the White House, they said a shutdown would hurt Democrats.

"The real question is, do Democrats want to shut the government down over whether or not to keep America safe?" asked House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.)

Some Republicans are backing a push for the wall now, while they still control the House. Once Democrats take over the lower chamber in 2019, funding for the border wall will be a dead letter.

Trump himself said last week "there certainly could be" a shutdown over funding for border security and the wall. However in an interview with the Washington Post published Nov. 27, the president said that if the wall isn't funded by Congress, "I might get it done another way."

"There are other potential ways that I can do it," Trump said. "You saw what we did with the military, just coming in with the barbed wire and the fencing, and various other things. "

Among other measures, a federal pay raise and money to fund the Modernizing Government Technology Act hang in the balance. Both are covered in an appropriation that includes funding for White House operations, the Office of Management and Budget, Treasury, IRS and the General Services Administration.

In a Nov. 27 letter, Anthony M. Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, expressed concern both for the fate of the pay raise and for IRS and other employees who would be furloughed in the event of a government shutdown.

"While there is never a good time to go without pay, for many who will celebrate holidays next month with family, there is no worse time," Reardon wrote.

Reardon also pushed for the 1.9 percent pay raise called for in a Senate-passed appropriations bill. That measure still needs to be ironed out by House and Senate appropriators.

The Technology Modernization Fund, a two-year pot of money authorized by the MGT Act, is also stalled. Funding for 2019 was zeroed out by Senate appropriators. It remains to be seen whether that funding will be restored in a conferenced appropriations bill, although it appears that the transparency and reporting concerns of some senators have been addressed by program administrators.

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