As Shutdown Talks Stall, Democrats Try a New Tactic to Open Some Agencies
Trump says feds are still with him and can call in sick if that’s "what they have to do."
Lawmakers and the White House have shown little progress despite extended weekend negotiations as the partial shutdown dragged into its third week on Monday, and eclipsed the length of the 16-day shutdown in 2013.
House Democrats will seek to ramp up pressure on President Trump to reopen federal agencies by passing individual spending bills this week, allowing them to push the message that Republicans are refusing to allow specific government operations to function. They will move the Financial Services and General Government appropriations measure first, which includes funding for the Treasury Department, the Office of Personnel Management, the General Services Administration and other agencies. The bill also includes a 1.9 percent pay raise for federal employees in 2019, as was negotiated by both parties and chambers last year.
The House then plans to pass the measures to fund the Agriculture Department and related agencies; the Interior Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and related agencies; and the departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and related agencies. All of the bills largely mirror those that were already either overwhelmingly approved by the full Senate or unanimously approved in the chamber’s Appropriations Committee.
The move to pass the measures individually follows the House last week passing them in one package and in conjunction with a stopgap measure to reopen the Homeland Security Department. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats were moving the bills in response to Trump’s claim the shutdown could last for “years.” They will start with Treasury funding to highlight potential disruption to the Internal Revenue Service during tax season.
“This action is necessary so that the American people can receive their tax refunds on schedule,” Pelosi said. “The certainty of the tax returns of hard-working families should no longer be held hostage to the president’s reckless demands.”
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., the newly minted House Appropriations chairwoman, called on the Senate to take up the bills individually after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said last week he would not bring up the larger package for a vote.
“Unless Congress acts, the American people will not receive their tax refunds, families will lose food stamps, homebuyers seeking mortgages will remain in limbo, and our National Parks will continue to accumulate garbage and waste,” Lowey said. “These bills will stop this chaos, get many federal employees back on the job, and ensure that key parts of the government are working for the American people.”
Over the weekend, Vice President Mike Pence led negotiations with staff to congressional leaders but the talks made little progress. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that he suspected the shutdown was “going to drag on a lot longer.” He reiterated Trump’s demand for $5 billion in funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, but said the White House has offered to not use concrete for its construction as a concession in negotiations. Democrats were unmoved by the offer.
Trump, for his part, continued to say federal employees will have little problem getting by as the shutdown drags on. About 350,000 workers are currently home on furlough, while and additional 500,000 are working but will not receive pay until the government reopens. Most federal workers will miss pay for the first time on or around Jan. 11, when the next round of checks would otherwise hit their accounts.
“I can relate,” Trump told reporters on Sunday. “And I'm sure that the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustment. They always do. And they'll make adjustment.”
He reiterated his claim that federal employees support the shutdown because they want a wall, despite Government Executive polling showing that to be false.
“Many of those people that won't be receiving a paycheck, many of those people agree 100 percent with what I'm doing,” Trump said. Asked if federal employees will miss their Jan. 11 paychecks, Trump declined to give a firm answer. “We'll see what happens,” the president said. “We'll see whether or not it's settled.”
Trump was not critical of federal employees who may decide to call in sick rather than report to work without pay: “Look, they have to do what they have to do,” Trump said.
The White House is considering declaring a national emergency so it has more latitude in allocating funds for a border wall, the president said, though he did not offer details.
“Well, we have a lot of different ways,” Trump said. “I'm not going to get into that. I'm just saying, we are looking at it very strongly, but hopefully we can do it this way.”
Trump is planning to visit the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday.