Some federal workers will begin to feel the pain of the partial U.S. government shutdown on Friday as the closure enters its seventh day.
The first paychecks are going out with reduced funds for employees who were assigned to work on the first day of the shutdown, Saturday, Dec. 22, without pay or who began their furlough that day. If President Donald Trump’s standoff with Democrats over a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border continues, all workers in the nine departments and dozens of agencies affected by the closure will miss their next paycheck on Jan. 11.
“I’ve had members come to me saying they are returning holiday and Christmas presents they bought because they are worried about paying rent,” National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon said in an interview Thursday. “Congress should be doing everything in its power to get the government up and running again.”
Congress punted resolution of the standoff most likely into 2019 when both chambers met just long enough Thursday to set their next meetings for Monday, with no votes planned.
Democrats have little incentive to negotiate until they take over the House of Representatives on Jan. 3 and gain leverage in the talks. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s spokesman, Justin Goodman, said both sides remain far apart.
“We on the Republican side do not want to vote for a bill the president won’t sign,” Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, told reporters in the Capitol Thursday. “So hopefully Senator Schumer and the Democrat leadership will come up with a number that satisfies the president for border security.”
Resolution of the standoff may end up involving a face-saving deal on a barrier that Trump can call a wall.
“They can call it anything they want to, barrier or fence,“ Roberts said.
There’s little indication of any imminent agreement to resolve the standoff as the new Congress is set to convene next week. Trump is demanding $5 billion for the wall, while Democratic leaders have proposed $1.3 billion for border security. Congressional leaders remained out of town, while Trump returned to Washington early Thursday from an unannounced visit to U.S. troops in Iraq. The Senate and House held brief sessions on Thursday but took no votes. Lawmakers will be given 24 hours notice if there is a breakthrough that would require a vote. Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, urged the House to pass a Senate bill that would guarantee full retroactive pay to federal employees once their agencies reopen.
Trump tweeted that most federal employees who are losing pay because of the shutdown are Democrats, though he provided no evidence to support the claim. Virginia Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, called Trump’s tweet “outrageous,” adding on Twitter that “federal employees don’t go to work wearing red or blue jerseys.” Goodman said Schumer, a New York Democrat, had rejected an offer conveyed earlier by Vice President Mike Pence of $2.1 billion for new border barriers, along with $400 million for other Trump immigration priorities. Schumer told Pence that Democrats won’t consider any offer without a public endorsement by Trump because the president has changed his position so often, Goodman said.
Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have been negotiating with the Trump administration. Once they reach agreement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’ll seek a vote on the deal. If the shutdown lasts past Jan. 3, when Democrats assume control of the House, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who is in line to become speaker, said the chamber will pass a spending bill to reopen the government — without money for a wall.
The shutdown, which began Saturday, affects nine of 15 federal departments, dozens of agencies and hundreds of thousands of workers. Among the departments without funding are: Justice, Homeland Security, Interior and Treasury. Independent agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, are also affected. The departments whose funding lapsed represent about a quarter of the $1.24 trillion in government discretionary spending for fiscal year 2019. An estimated 400,000 federal employees will work without pay and 350,000 will now be furloughed, according to a congressional Democratic aide. Federal employees working without pay and those now furloughed are getting their Dec. 28 paychecks under a decision by the White House budget office since pay reflects work before Dec. 21. The remaining parts of the government, including the Defense Department, Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, were already funded and won’t be affected by the shutdown, nor will mandatory entitlement programs like Medicare payments.