The partial government shutdown drama is not over yet.
With the clock ticking before a select group of federal agencies run out of funding by Friday, the US House has passed a short-term spending bill that contains $5 billion for President Donald Trump’s border wall. Now it will head to the US Senate — where it will almost certainly not get enough votes to pass, setting the stage for a partial government shutdown.
Thursday’s vote in the House capped off a whirlwind day on Capitol Hill that started when Trump shifted his stance on signing a short-term government spending bill. Just a day after signaling he would sign the bill, Trump went back on his commitment. House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters after speaking with the president that Trump wouldn’t sign a bill without money for border security.
“The president informed us that he will not sign the bill that came over from the Senate last evening because of his legitimate concerns for border security,” Ryan said. “So what we’re going to do is go back to the House and work with our members. We want to keep the government open, but we also want to see an agreement that protects the border.”
The House voted on the new partial spending bill Thursday, after the Senate passed a clean spending bill late Wednesday night that contained no additional wall funding. The bill would fund 25 percent of the government (the remaining 75 percent has already been passed) until February 8, when Trump will have to contend with a new House Democratic majority less likely to cater to his whims.
Trump’s change of heart seems to be coming from hearing complaints from members of his base that he “caved” by agreeing to sign a short-term CR (continuing resolution) that contains no funding for the US-Mexico border wall. Further complicating things, Trump met House Republican leadership as well as conservative leaders Reps. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Jim Jordan (R-OH) at the White House Thursday afternoon. Meadows and Jordan have the president’s ear and likely counseled Trump to stand firm and oppose any bill that doesn’t have wall funding.
It’s important to emphasize that the effects of a partial shutdown would be smaller than a wholesale one; many of the unfunded federal agencies will be closed for several days over the holidays, and members of the Border Patrol, for example, would be deemed essential personnel who would have to keep working even if their funding runs out.
The passage of the bill with $5 billion for the wall allows Republicans to say they tried to fulfill Trump’s wishes, but if it cannot pass the Senate — as is expected — it will be a purely symbolic victory for the Republican base. And the move also risks inflaming the rest of the electorate.
House Republicans scrambled to figure out a path forward
Ryan indicated that he and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy would get to work on a new deal that they could try to get through Congress ahead of the December 21 deadline.
“We’re going to go back and work on adding border security to this, also keeping the government open because we do want to see an agreement with that alternative,” Ryan said in a statement earlier on Thursday.
There are now a couple different paths forward — with the final outcome hinging heavily on whether or not Trump agrees to sign the new option that lawmakers offer up. House Republicans’ new bill could very well be rejected by the Senate, which voted for a clean CR on Wednesday. If that happens, lawmakers could end up returning to the original continuing resolution that’s already been passed by the upper chamber and keep as is or add additional tweaks.
Whether it’s the House’s bill or the Senate’s take, the two chambers — along with Trump — will have to agree on something in order to avert the partial government shutdown. If they don’t, the government could shut down Friday after midnight and lawmakers would likely have to work through the weekend — and maybe even through the holidays to figure out a compromise.
As they have been for the past two years, House Republicans are on edge waiting for a signal from Trump that he will actually sign whatever spending bill Congress lands on.
Trump, meanwhile, has appeared to be wholly concerned with what conservative House Republicans think of him. CNN’s Kaitlan Collins reported that Trump was paying a lot of attention to what conservatives were saying about his decision, which could have played into his sudden reversal.
“He’s watching who’s going after him, lashing out at aides to ‘fix it,’” Collins tweeted.
We reported last night that Trump is becoming very sensitive to criticism he’s backing off the border wall. He’s watching who’s going after him, lashing out at aides to “fix it.” Rs say they’re confident he’ll sign the CR, but look for some drama over the next 24 hours.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) December 20, 2018
Earlier on Thursday, Fox’s Chad Pergram described House Republicans as “beside themselves” with the state of affairs, with at least one complaining about the “lack of direction” and “lack of message” from Trump and the White House.
House Republicans are beside themselves about what may happen on the border wall and government money. One GOP member told Fox there was a “lack of direction, lack of message” from the White House about what they are for and against.
— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) December 20, 2018
Democrats, meanwhile, are holding firm to their promise of a bill with no funding in it for border security.
“In terms of wall funding, that’s a nonstarter,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters at her weekly press conference on Thursday.
She and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer negotiated the short-term CR containing no wall funding with the president and have given no indication they will change their mind. At last week’s meeting with Trump, Pelosi repeatedly told the president that Republicans don’t have the votes to pass a border wall in the House.
Pelosi, who is poised to become the next House speaker, made it clear this was a problem Republicans would have to hash out on their own. On Thursday night, Pelosi and Schumer spoke to reporters, saying they would to prefer to fund Homeland Security at current spending levels and renegotiate at a future point. They also stood firm on no funding for the border wall.
The two put the shutdown squarely on Trump, with Schumer repeatedly saying the president’s “temper tantrum” was the source of the chaos.
“The Trump temper tantrum will shut down the government, but he will not get his wall,” Schumer said.
What will be open and closed during a shutdown
Since roughly three-quarters of the government has been funded by existing bills, many services are set to remain intact. Other programs that have been classified as “essential” will keep running as well, although some government entities like museums could see wholesale closures.
Hundreds of thousands of government employees could also be furloughed for the duration of the shutdown, though they would likely receive backpay after the fact. Here’s a list of what will and won’t be affected:
What’s still running
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid
- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are all slated to keep up their operations uninterrupted. All three programs fall under “mandatory spending” that the federal government has committed to — and are not affected by the annual appropriations process. (Medicaid also relies, in part, on state spending.)
- New applicants for these programs might face a wait, however.
The US Postal Service
- Post offices will remain operational and mail delivery will continue. As Rachel Wolfe has written for Vox, the USPS is funded by independent sources of revenue, including the sales of products and services — so it’s not impacted by any kind of shutdown.
Veterans hospitals and benefits
- The Department of Veterans Affairs has already secured its funding, so veterans hospitals will maintain their routine operations.
- Veteran disability pay and GI Bill benefits are funded by their own legislation separate from the annual appropriations bills, so those would stay consistent, according to Military.com.
- Active duty members of the military are exempt from shutdown furloughs, according to a contingency plan for the Department of Homeland Security. In the past, Congress has needed to pass separate legislation to ensure that members of the military are paid in a timely fashion during shutdowns. Otherwise, they could potentially see delays in their pay depending on if the shutdown extends past a certain payment cycle.
The Mueller investigation
- While Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and the Trump campaign is under the purview of the Department of Justice, it will not be affected by any appropriations stalemate, since it has its own permanent source of funding, CNN reports.
- Border security is at the heart of the shutdown fight and a key chunk of the staffing for it is on track to remain intact even in the face of a partial shutdown involving DHS funding. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is classified as an “essential” service, so a majority of its employees are exempt from furloughs during the shutdown — though they could encounter lags in pay.
- As Bloomberg reports, “the overwhelming majority of border patrol, emergency management and immigration enforcement staff would be able to keep doing their jobs, though with their pay delayed.”
Air traffic control and TSA
- Air traffic controllers, who fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration (which is under the Transportation Department umbrella) are deemed “essential,” and will keep working during a partial shutdown.
- Similarly, Transportation Service Administration agents are also considered “essential” so airline travel is not expected to see disruptions on this front, according to USA Today.
The federal judiciary
- The judiciary is able to maintain operations for a short period of time after funding runs out by using money it’s gathered from various courts-related fees including “funds derived from court filings,” according to the Congressional Research Service.
- In 2018, the judiciary said it had the wherewithal to keep its operations open for about three weeks, notes CRS.
- The city now has more autonomy over its budget and should be able to maintain most of its services, despite ties to federal appropriations.
- During the 2013 shutdown, city officials had to scramble to ensure that D.C. had the money it needed to remain operational, but since then Congress has approved measures to insulate the impact on the city in the event of a shutdown.
What could be affected by a partial shutdown
Every agency has its own contingency plan set up in case of a shutdown, and there are a couple key bodies including the IRS and National Parks that could see some pauses or breaks in service. Additionally, as MarketWatch points out, the president has the ability to determine whether any service is “essential” or not — so it’s possible he could try to shut down a key government function like air traffic control if he really wanted to make a point.
- National parks — which are funded as part of the Interior Department — have long been one of the most visible government entities affected by a shutdown and that could happen again this time around. During last January’s shutdown, many national parks were still open to visitors, but they had limited staffing and closed access to various park facilities, including restrooms. It’s possible we could see a repeat of this arrangement.
- Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo have previously been closed during shutdowns and would likely be shuttered again since they derive their funding from the Interior Department.
- A key body under the Treasury Department, the IRS has indicated that it plans to furlough a significant fraction of its workers under a contingency plan, since tax season has yet to get underway.
State Department services
- People will still be able to obtain passports and visas, although the State Department could stop issuing them if those services are offered in buildings run by another agency that is shut down, Bloomberg reports.
Environmental and food inspections
- The Environmental Protection Association and the Food and Drug Administration could both reduce the number of inspections they are conducting on hazardous sites and various food products, respectively.