Shutdown Will Reach 1-Month Mark With No End in Sight

January 18, 2019 (ed. 1-22-19)

The House and Senate have left town for the week, and Monday will mark the one-month mark of the partial, lapse-of-appropriations government shutdown that began on December 21. (Monday is also a federal holiday, for those parts of the government that are working.) But President Trump and Congressional Democrats appear no closer to a deal ending the shutdown than they were one or two weeks ago.

House Democratic leaders keep bringing up various measures to end the shutdown in one or more government departments, as much to make purple-district Republicans uncomfortable as for any other reason. Here is a list of the appropriations measures that the House has passed this year so far:

  • January 3: H.R. 21 – four-bill “minibus” appropriations bill containing last year’s Senate-passed Interior/Environment, Financial Services, Agriculture, and Transportation-HUD appropriations bills.
  • January 3: H. J. Res. 1 – stopgap continuing resolution for Homeland Security through February 8.
  • January 9: H.R. 264 – last year’s Senate-passed Financial Services bill.
  • January 10: H.R. 265 – last year’s Senate-passed Agriculture bill.
  • January 10: H.R. 267 – last year’s Senate-passed Transportation-HUD bill.
  • January 11: H.R. 266 – last year’s Senate-passed Interior/Environment bill.
  • January 16: H.R. 268 – a $12 billion disaster relief supplemental appropriations bill plus a clean government-wide CR through February 8.
  • January 17: H. J. Res. 28 – clean government-wide CR through February 28. (That last one will be brought back for a re-vote on the House floor next Tuesday.)

As noted elsewhere in this issue, next week will bring a six-bill omnibus appropriations package (H.R. 648) that was negotiated on a bipartisan basis in the last Congress but never brought up for a vote.

But none of this has moved the political needle enough to get Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to move to take up any of these measures on the Senate floor, absent a public statement from President Trump that he will sign a particular bill. (McConnell was badly burned by Vice President Pence’s assurances that Trump would sign a clean CR in mid-December only to see Trump change his mind and blow up the deal after McConnell had already orchestrated Senate passage of said CR.)

And relations between the branches took a nosedive this week after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) came thissss close to disinviting Trump from giving his State of the Union address in the House chamber on January 29 (without actually disinviting him – see her letter here), after which Trump retaliated by canceling the military plane that Pelosi was planning on using for an official trip to Afghanistan yesterday afternoon.

In the absence of any serious negotiations between Trump and Democratic leaders, one has little choice but to try and count how many Senate Republicans would eventually side with Democrats on reopening the government. The key numbers are 13 (necessary to combine with 47 Democrats to get the 60 votes necessary to shut off debate on any legislation) or 20 (necessary to combine with 47 Democrats to get the 67 votes necessary to override a Presidential veto). In the absence of those daunting numbers of GOP defectors, stalemate seems likely. (Ed. Note: We originally had those numbers wrong because this was the last article written after an all-nighter.)

However, the prospect of targeted shutdown relief remains, especially in the air travel sector. The number of TSA employees who can’t miss multiple paychecks from a job that only paid $16 an hour anyway is only going to increase, so the sick-outs (planned or spontaneous) will only increase. And some kind of protest action by air traffic controllers is a growing likelihood as well. Significant disruptions in air travel might be enough to get some of the shutdown ended, but the problem is that TSA is paid out of the same bill that either will or won’t fund a border wall.

In other shutdown news, the Department of Transportation has altered its shutdown plan, forcing another 3,472 FAA employees (safety inspectors, mostly) to work without the immediate prospect of pay under the life/safety exception to the AntiDeficiency Act. The plan also tweaked some other areas, especially at the Maritime Administration, to reflect the start of the new semester at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.


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