Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., speaks at an event on Capitol Hill in January.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., speaks at an event on Capitol Hill in January. Andrew Harnik/AP

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Maryland Senator Says President is the 'Wild Card' in Spending Negotiations 

While Democrats and Republicans negotiate on appropriations, it’s unclear how the president will react. 

The junior senator from Maryland on Monday told an audience of federal employees Democrats and Republicans are working to avoid a government shutdown as the current funding runs out on Dec. 20, but “you never know in this environment.”

Lawmakers will argue over provisions of appropriations bills, but “there seems to be a consensus it would be a really bad idea to have another government shutdown,” Van Hollen said at a union event. Spending negotiations could end up coinciding with an impeachment trial for Trump in the Senate, but Van Hollen said he does not foresee that causing any complications.

The recent impeachment hearings in the House have shown “the great caliber and integrity” of employees across the government, the senator told members of the National Treasury Employees Union, Chapter 282, which represents Food and Drug Administration employees. Maryland has about 128,064 federal workers, one of the highest concentrations in the country, according to federal data.

Van Hollen said it’s too soon to tell if there will be a shutdown, continuing resolution or if lawmakers will pass individual appropriations bills. “The wild card is President Trump,” he told reporters after the event. “We saw what he did last time. He shut down the government.” 

Van Hollen noted that before the last shutdown ended, lawmakers passed an “insurance policy” to ensure back-pay for federal employees that he and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., had introduced. “Given the kind of politics we have right now, there would be a very big risk” back pay would not be guaranteed, he said. 

Van Hollen’s speech came after White House and congressional Democrats reached a tentative deal on paid family leave for federal employees. The House is expected to vote on the new benefit in the Defense authorization bill later in the week. Van Hollen stressed the importance of this policy for federal employees and said the government is “behind the times,” in comparison to many private companies. 

“Maryland constituents and people all over the country rely on your good work,” he said. “The least we can do is make sure that we protect your bargaining rights, that we ensure that you have good pay and good benefits, so that you can continue to do the work for the American people without having to worry about politicization of the process and that you have the confidence we will have a merit-based system” of government.