With impasse over wall funding, federal workers gear up for shutdown

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Officials at a number of federal agencies on Friday told their employees to prepare for a partial government shutdown, as no deal was emerging to solve a spending spat between Congress and President Donald Trump over funding for his border wall, an impasse which could create a lapse in funding for an estimated 800,000 workers, about one quarter of the federal workforce.

In conference calls and emails, officials at various agencies were making sure employees and their supervisors were submitting time cards, pay sheets, and more, trying to get as much prep work done before a midnight funding deadline.

“Everyone will be paid on the 30th,” an official Commerce Department told an internal conference call for employees.

As those preparations were underway in agencies and departments which have not been fully funded for 2019, President Trump made clear he wasn’t backing off his call for border wall funding, blaming Democrats for the impasse.

“This is our only chance that we’ll ever have,” the President added, maybe alluding to the impending change in power in the House, as Democrats will take charge there on January 3.

“My view right now is to support the President to stand up for what we know is important,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who said he not only wanted border security money in any short term funding plan, but also disaster relief aid for areas in his state damaged by Hurricane Michael.

On Capitol Hill, there was no indication of any real negotiation on a deal, as some Republican Senators said there was simply no chance that the House-passed temporary funding bill – which includes $5.7 billion in border security money, and $7.8 billion in disaster relief – could get through the Senate.

“Why move to proceed to a bill that has no future?” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who voted against a motion to start debate on the House-passed funding plan.

Some Senators had already gone home – like Democrat Brian Schatz of Hawaii – who landed in Honolulu, spent a few minutes with his family, and immediately flew back to Washington, landing before 6 am outside the nation’s capital.

A partial shutdown would impact about 800,000 federal workers – about half of those would still have to work, even though many would not be paid.

Some federal employees were worried about the political struggle – while for others, it was noise.

“Been through it so many times,” one worker at NASA told me. “I just wait and see and not stress about it.”

“Low level contract employees – cleaning crews, cafeteria workers, are the ones who really get screwed,” another federal worker told me.

If there is a shutdown, it would be much more limited than usual, because funding bills have already been approved for about 75 percent of the federal budget, including the military, Congress, energy and water programs, the VA, military construction, and more.

There are seven funding bills which have not been finalized by Congress and the President – they cover the following areas:

+ Agriculture – deals with farm programs, Food and Drug Administration, food safety and inspection services.
+ Commerce, Justice, Science – funds the Justice Department, FBI, Commerce Department, National Weather Service, NASA, and other agencies.
+ Financial Services – This bill funds the IRS, Treasury Department, FCC, Small Business Administration, the federal courts, the government of the District of Columbia, and more.
+ Homeland Security – This is the bill which would contain money for the President’s border wall. The House never voted on it, because the GOP didn’t have the votes for the $5 billion in wall funding. The bill funds the Border Patrol, immigration and customs operations, Coast Guard, TSA, FEMA, and other agencies.
+ Interior – This bill has money for Wildfire prevention, the EPA, BLM (Bureau of Land Management), the National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish & Wildlife, Smithsonian museums and more.
+ State & Foreign Operations – This bill funds the State Department, and foreign aid programs. Quick, guess how much money the feds spend on this funding bill, as part of an over $4 trillion budget. Time’s up. If you said $47 billion, you win.
+ Transportation and Housing – This bill funds the Department of Transportation, FAA, Amtrak, and federal housing programs at HUD.