The federal government has entered the work week still shut down — and there’s still not enough support behind a spending bill to open it again.
On Sunday, there was some optimism that Democrats and Republicans could come to an agreement by noon Monday, when the Senate is scheduled to vote again to fund the government. But on Monday morning, Democrats, were still saying “no deal,” and Senate Republican leaders had plans to meet to discuss their options.
Republicans and Democrats have been stuck in a standoff over government spending since Friday, after failing to reach an immigration and spending deal by the government shutdown deadline. House Republicans passed a bill on Thursday to fund the government for four weeks and extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years. But on a procedural vote late Friday, which needed 60 votes to advance the House spending bill, 45 Senate Democrats — and five Senate Republicans — rejected it because it didn’t include legal protections for young immigrants, shutting down the government.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made Democrats a counter offer: a shorter short-term spending bill that would keep the government open until February 8, with the promise of an immigration vote. But Democrats say the counter does not do enough to ensure a bipartisan immigration bill lands on President Trump’s desk.
Democrats have been frustrated with Trump’s unwillingness to accept a bipartisan proposal to address the nearly 700,000 immigrants in legal limbo after he pledged to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by March. They’ve been demanding GOP leaders give firmer assurances that an immigration bill will pass Congress well before the March 5 deadline.
But McConnell, who has only given assurances of a vote on immigration in the Senate once the government is funded, has been unable — or unwilling — to bind the House or Trump in these negotiations.
And so, until one party blinks, the government remains closed.
What does a federal shutdown actually mean?
A government shutdown means a lot of “nonessential” government activities suddenly cease. As Vox explained, it’s not unusual for Congress to go to the brink of a shutdown; it happened several times in Trump’s first year in office alone. But it’s rare for Congress to actually miss the deadline.
During shutdowns, federal employees are split into “essential” and “nonessential” groups. Nonessential employees receive furloughs: They stop getting paid and are off work until the shutdown is resolved. Essential workers also stop getting paid, but they still have to work. Usually when a shutdown is over, federal employees are paid back the salaries they went without.
A shutdown usually suspends a lot of government functions. Though the military, air traffic control, federal prisons, and Social Security and other benefit payments typically aren’t affected, the Office of Management and Budget estimated that the shutdown resulted in 120,000 fewer jobs and cut economic growth by 0.2 to 0.6 percent in the last quarter of 2013, the last time the government shut down.
The effects of the 2013 shutdown were pretty substantial:
- Tax refunds totaling almost $4 billion were delayed.
- The Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program went unfunded.
- Federal research activities at the National Institutes of Health (which lost about three-quarters of its employees), the National Science Foundation (which lost 98 percent of its workforce), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (which lost two-thirds) shut down nearly entirely; the CDC scaled back its monitoring of disease outbreaks.
- Environmental Protection Agency inspections halted at 1,200 locations.
- The Food and Drug Administration delayed approval of drugs and medical devices.
- The national parks shut down, resulting in $500 million in lost consumer spending from tourism.
- Reviews of veterans’ disability applications slowed to a halt, with nearly 20,000 applications per week not being evaluated.
So while shutdowns don’t usually result in senior citizens going without their Social Security checks, or shut down the military, it’s still a very serious matter.
For Congress, there’s now a mad scramble to end the shutdown
To end a government shutdown, Congress has to pass a spending bill.
That means Congress can 1) pass the appropriations bills, likely in an omnibus, which just crams together 11 appropriations bills into one spending package; 2) pass a “continuing resolution” (CR), which would fund the government at its current levels, basically buying more time to negotiate the actual appropriations bills (this is what Congress has done since last October); or 3) pass a “CRomnibus,” which is a combination of the two, extending the deadline on certain more contentious appropriations — like for the Department of Homeland Security — and passing a spending bill on the rest.
McConnell has already proposed another CR — one slightly shorter than the one that failed on the floor earlier this evening.
But it’s important to note that Democrats voted down a short-term spending bill Friday over stalled immigration negotiations, and it’s unlikely they’d vote for one without some kind of agreement on the future of the DACA program.
After months of inaction, immigration negotiations have intensified in recent days, but not without tribulations. Trump and Republican leadership continue to engage hardline immigration hawks who have shown no interest in compromise. Trump reportedly told Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who occupy the most conservative spaces in the immigration debate, that he wouldn’t support a proposal without their blessing. Trump has already nixed one bipartisan proposal put forward by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill).
That’s a serious red flag for Democrats, whose votes are needed to pass anything on immigration. Meanwhile, Republicans continue to push for immigration negotiations to be kept outside of spending talks. Flake and Graham, both of whom joined Democrats in voting against the four week spending bill, now support McConnell’s counter offer, saying they trust the GOP leader’s assurance on immigration.
“It’s up to Democrats to find a way to get to yes,” Graham told reporters. “Mitch has given me a way to yes. And I would argue I care as much about getting immigration resolved as anyone in the body.”
By Sunday night, Schumer said he and McConnell had yet to reach a final deal. But with a shutdown hanging overhead, it’s possible either party will be willing to make more concessions.
Meanwhile, the blame games continue
Leading up to the shutdown, both parties set up the other side to take the blame for the shutdown, as Vox previously explained:
Senate Republicans are already prepping plans for the weekend, if the government does shut down, to force vulnerable Senate Democrats to take uncomfortable votes, as Politico reported.
Democrats say that Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House — of course it’s their fault if they can’t keep the government open. Republicans, meanwhile, are accusing Democrats of withholding their needed votes in the Senate in order to press for a resolution to the impasse in the immigration debate, even at the expense of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
The truth is, Republicans didn’t even have the votes to keep the government open on their own. But Democrats also weren’t going to let the government stay open without a DACA deal, even if Republicans had the votes. After Trump blew up the DACA talks in the “shithole” meeting, they felt they had no choice and saw the spending bill as the best leverage.
Democrats have been saying — as Republicans knew — that tying a DACA deal to a spending bill was the only way they could be assured of its success. Immigration hawks are trying to blow up the emerging deal from a bipartisan group of senators. Cotton, one of the hawks who have Trump’s ear, on Friday called the proposal from Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) “preposterous.”
The hardliners, and Republican leaders, are digging in. Democrats have already decided that now is the time to force the DACA issue. The government won’t reopen until one side feels the squeeze — and blinks.
The blame game, however, began the moment the shutdown was triggered. The White House and Republicans are calling it the “Schumer shutdown.”
As for Schumer, he says only one person is responsible: “This will be called the Trump shutdown.”