This week is likely to see the first full effects of the partial government shutdown although for over 800,000 workers that has been felt since December 21, 2018. On Friday after a reportedly contentious meaning between Congressional Democrats and the President, Mr. Trump proclaimed that the government shutdown could go on for “months or even years” if he doesn’t get funding for the wall. The comments were made behind closed doors but verified later by the President.
In one of the very first acts of the new House of Representatives, two separate bills were adopted that would separate funding and the debate over the wall from most of the rest of the government. One bill includes six appropriations bills: Agriculture; Commerce-Justice-State; Financial Services-General Government; Interior; State Department-Foreign Operations; and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development. These six appropriations bills would fund these areas through the end of the fiscal year at levels negotiated last October. The other bill that was passed was a separate funding appropriation for Homeland Security that would run until February 8, in an attempt to continue discussion and the arguments over funding for the wall.
To this point Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has insisted he will not take up any bill unless the President gives his approval before hand. McConnell has not been directly involved in any negotiation and is keeping a low profile. There were a few Republican senators indicating they want to take up the House bills and act now. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) both spoke in support of passing the bills and continuing the negotiation over Homeland Security.
Whether increasing numbers of Republican senators join them could be impacted in the coming weeks if they shut down continues as the President has indicated. The impact of the government shut down has been muted for several reasons.
For one thing the two biggest chunks of the federal budget the Defense Department (along with the separate Veterans Affairs) and HHS (along with the much smaller Education and Labor Departments) are funded. The rest of the government amounts to 25% of federal funding but it is significant. Secondly, the shut-down took place over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays when many workers would’ve been taking time off. Similarly, over that same time, voters were tuned out to Washington as they usually are during the holiday seasons. Now those things are starting to change and some of the cutbacks are going to start to get attention as services are denied and voters engage.
A third factor is that departments have been able to patch together some temporary funding and that is starting to run out. This means this past week museums started to shut their doors to tourists and services in national parks have started to lean on local support and governments. In the coming weeks—if the President is correct about the length of the shut-down—vital services will be interrupted. Although SNAP (food stamps) is an entitlement, it does require authority to spend normally included in appropriations bills. The Internal Revenue Service is shut-down as part of the Treasury Department and that shut-down means people seeking their refunds will not be able to get them let alone decipher the new tax law that will require its first filing this January through April. Agriculture (where SNAP is funded) also provides farm supports and those will be shut off.
Last but not least is the question of how long “essential” government employees will stay on the job without paychecks. This includes the Coast Guard and airport security personnel (TSA). Speaker Pelosi has indicated that the House will begin to pass individual appropriations bills this week starting with the Treasury Department in an effort to turn up the pressure on the Senate and President.