Federal workers were bracing for a partial government shutdown late Friday as Democrats and Republicans sparred over President Donald Trump’s demand that Congress approve $5 billion to help build a wall on the Mexican border as part of short-term funding legislation.
A shutdown was slated to begin at midnight ET, as the House adjourned for the evening and was scheduled to reconvene Saturday.
Negotiations were continuing into the night after the Senate voted earlier Friday evening to consider legislation passed by the House on Thursday. That bill, which includes $5.7 billion for wall funding and would fund the government through Feb. 8, does not have the votes to pass in the Senate. But Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker and Alabama Democrat Doug Jones voted to take up the House bill in order to give Senate leaders momentum to keep talking with their House and White House colleagues.
Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller did not vote Friday. His office did not respond to an inquiry seeking comment as to the reason. Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto voted against taking up the House measure.
“Right now, Senator Cortez Masto's primary concern is ensuring that the President does not trigger a shutdown,” her spokesman Ryan King said after the vote. “She's focused on working with her colleagues to make certain that a bipartisan solution is found that stops any threat of a pending Trump shutdown.”
The House vote on Thursday split Nevada’s lawmakers along party lines. Republican Rep. Mark Amodei supported the legislation, while Democratic Reps. Dina Titus and Ruben Kihuen opposed the measure. Rep. Jacky Rosen missed votes this week because of her brother’s death. “Rep. Rosen missed votes due to an unfortunate medical condition that led to the loss of her brother,” according to her office. “The Congresswoman is focused on her family during this difficult time.”
At issue is funding for the southern border wall, which was among Trump’s top campaign promises. He has requested at least $5 billion for the wall. But the Democrats’ latest offer, approved by the Senate Tuesday, was $1.3 billion, the same amount as provided for border security in the last fiscal year. Senate negotiators could go up to $1.6 billion for border security, which is the figure that Senate appropriators agreed to for the next fiscal year.
Five of the 12 annual appropriations bills have been signed into law. They include funding for the Department of Defense, which is the lion’s share of the federal budget. But seven spending bills remain unfinished and the shutdown would affect nine federal departments along with other various agencies, including the Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Interior (DOI).
However, these departments have contingency plans to prevent essential services from being disrupted. For example, of the roughly 54,000 workers at the DOT, about 34,000 would stay on the job under a government shutdown. The workers would not get paid until the government reopens and the Congress passes a law to pay them.
Titus said that loan processing at the Department of Housing and Urban Development is a concern for her, along with closing of national parks and some federal workers being forced to work without pay.
“With three quarters of the government already funded through next year, it is unlikely many Americans will feel direct impacts, but closing our National Parks, shutting down vital housing programs, and forcing hundreds of thousands of federal employees to work without pay or be furloughed just days before Christmas will hit our economy at a time when many fear we are on the precipice of another recession,” Titus said in a statement from her office. “I am particularly concerned shutting down federal housing programs will have a significant impact on loan processing and the housing market.”
“If the President foolishly shuts down the government, even partially, it will be yet another example of his failure to lead,” she added.
According to Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee, about 420,000 federal workers will be required to work without pay, including 53,000 Transportation Security Administration employees, 54,000 Customs and Border Protection agents and customs officers and 5,000 Forest Service firefighters. Another 380,000 workers would be furloughed, meaning they would not work and would not be paid. That includes 28,000 workers at the Forest Service and 16,000 at the National Park Service.
On Friday, Amodei issued a release to reassure constituents that Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, the Veterans Administration and the Post Office would not be affected.
Republican Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois saw the funding debate as an opportunity to try to push through funding to help build a nuclear repository for Yucca Mountain as part of the must-pass spending package. He made his case to include his bill to restart the project late Wednesday night to the House Rules Committee; his original bill was approved by the House on a 340 to 72 vote in May. “We’ll pass it,” Shimkus told the panel. “Kick it to the Senate. Let them eat it. That’s what I am asking you to do.”
He also offered another amendment to provide $120 million for the project. Neither amendment was allowed to proceed to a vote.
Despite the impasse on spending, Congress this week approved a sweeping criminal justice reform bill that would give federal judges more discretion in sentencing some drug offenders and ease some mandatory minimum sentences. All members of the delegation voted for the bill, and Trump signed it into law on Friday.
The delegation also welcomed a DOJ ban on bump stocks, which were used in the Oct. 1 shooting. But most members want Congress to vote to ban them to make it more permanent.
Democrats also raised concerns about the ruling in a federal lawsuit in Texas, where a judge ruled that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unconstitutional because Congress scrapped the part of the law requiring individuals to carry health insurance.
“This ruling could jeopardize health care for millions of Americans, including hundreds of thousands of Nevadans with pre-existing conditions. We must fight, now more than ever, to protect our health care,” said Rosen in a statement. She has sponsored a resolution that has more than 160 co-sponsors that would authorize the Office of the General Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives to intervene on behalf of the House to defend the ACA coverage protections for people with pre-existing conditions in the Texas case.
Gov.-elect Steve Sisolak and Attorney General-elect Aaron Ford announced over the weekend that Nevada plans to join an appeal led by a coalition of 16 states and the District of Columbia that have been defending the federal health-care law in court.
Meanwhile, Sen. Rob Portman paid tribute on the Senate floor to Heller, who lost his re-election bid to Rosen in November.
“He’s a great guy and a privilege to work with,” Portman said. “I know he has a bright future outside of this place.”
Heller is on the shortlist to replace embattled Interior Department chief Ryan Zinke.
For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.
SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO
S. Res. 734 – A resolution authorizing the Senate Legal Counsel to represent the Senate in Texas v. United States, No. 4:18-cv-00167-O (N.D. Tex.).
REP. DINA TITUS
H.R. 7385 – To direct the President to establish pilot programs to provide long-term rental housing assistance and case management services after certain major disasters, and for other purposes.