Possible Government Shutdown Back on the Brink

Possible Government Shutdown Back on the Brink

What appeared to be a deal to keep all of the government operating through February 8, 2019 hit a wall today — President Trump’s border wall.  Senate Republicans were confident they had Trump’s agreement when they passed an extension of a Continuing Resolution (CR) last night that would fund agencies like NASA and NOAA whose FY2019 budgets have not been enacted yet, but he changed his mind today.  Instead, the House passed a very different version of the CR tonight adding $5 billion for the border wall and $7.8 billion for disaster relief and sent it back to the Senate.  What will happen next is unclear.

Trump has been demanding that Congress provide $5 billion in FY2019 for a border wall.  Last week he said he would be “proud” to shut down the government if he did not get it. That was much more than Congress planned to provide, however, and, just 24 hours ago, he appeared to have relented and agreed to push that fight into the next Congress.

The Senate passed a “clean” extension of the CR, without any policy riders, last night.  The House was expected to pass it today and bring the 115th Congress to an end.

According to multiple media reports, members of the House Freedom Caucus, an ultra-conservative Republican group, objected as did conservative media personalities who wanted Trump to insist on the $5 billion or shut down those parts of the government that do not have their FY2019 funding yet.  House Speaker Paul Ryan met with Trump at lunchtime and emerged to say that the President would not sign the Senate bill into law.  The House then passed an amended version adding $5 billion for the wall and $7.8 billion in disaster relief.

(The figure of $5 billion for the border wall is referenced in a statement from House Appropriations Committee chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, but section 141 of the bill says $5.7 billion.)

Senate Republicans were taken by surprise.  The House needed a simply majority to pass its version of the bill and since Republicans control the chamber, there were enough Republican votes to succeed (217-185).  The Senate, however, needs 60 votes to win and there are only 51 Republicans. The Senate will convene at noon tomorrow. What will happen is anyone’s guess.

The majority of congressional Republicans and Democrats do not want a shutdown. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), outgoing chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, reiterated that tonight after the House passed the revised CR.

“As I have stated many times, a Continuing Resolution is a last resort when it comes to funding the federal government. But I do not support a government shutdown under any circumstances.”  Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen

However, he continued on to say that the bill provides more time to reach agreement on the final appropriations bills and adds money for disaster relief and the wall. He urged the Senate to pass it.

If there is a shutdown, it will affect all the departments and agencies in seven of the 12 regular appropriations bills including the Departments of Homeland Security, State, Commerce (including NOAA), Justice, Treasury, Agriculture, Interior, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, NASA, and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The other five appropriations bills have been enacted and those departments and agencies, including DOD, are not affected.  Those five bills pay for 75 percent of discretionary government spending.  The remaining 25 percent is for the agencies covered by the CR.

Essential operations would continue, but about 800,000 government employees would not be paid unless their agency had other sources of funds, like fees, to pay them.  Government Executive estimated that 95.4 percent of NASA’s workforce would be furloughed, the most of any agency other than NSF.

Agencies are required to have shutdown plans.  NASA’s current version is dated December 18, 2018.  In brief, these are the functions that would continue:

NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce, whose shutdown plan was updated on December 17, 2018. Among the services and activities that continue during a shutdown are “Weather, water, and climate observing, prediction, forecast, warning, and support,” which would apparently include operation of NOAA’s weather satellites.

The current CR expires at midnight tomorrow.  A shutdown could happen, or agreement could be reached on a much shorter extension — for a few days to get past Christmas with Congress returning next week to continue the debate, or other possibilities.  Government offices will be closed on Monday and Tuesday in any case, though that is quite different from a shutdown.  Stay tuned.

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