Vote Notes: H.R. 195, Extension of Continuing Appropriations Act
A few moments ago, the House passed a Continuing Resolution to keep the government open over the next month and to February 16th. So technically, the bill not only extended federal government for the next month, but it also extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years, and delays three Obamacare-related taxes: the taxes on medical devices for two years, the taxes on high-cost insurance plans for two years and the taxes on health insurance providers for one year. The bill passed with near unanimous Republican support, 230 to 197, and I voted yes.
The Senate will now take up this measure and its prospects look less promising. If they’re not able to pass this resolution, then government will be “shutdown.”
Given all the media attention that the “shutdown” has gotten over the day, I wanted to walk you through how we got to this point and what happens in the event that government does indeed shut down.
First, the past:
Each year, the Congress votes on 12 separate appropriations bills that fund government operations for the year. The House has done so. The Senate has not. Both bodies have to for government to be funded. Since the Senate has not, Congress has now passed its third consecutive Continuing Resolution to keep government funded. Doing so is unusual even by congressional standards.
Knowing that Republicans hold the House, Senate, and White House...and are thereby responsible for funding government, Democrats have seized on the funding crisis as a leverage point for advancing a thing called DACA. This program is actually known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and was an executive order put in place by the Obama Administration that protected undocumented children from deportation. Though DACA is not related to the funding of our government, the leverage in advancing this point for Democrats is real. And this brings us to our present crisis. Because the battle lines are fixed, Democrats want DACA language as a part of any year-end budget deal. Republicans have said no DACA without some element of border security to go with it.
This is indeed where politics gets messy. Participants are always looking for a way to leverage what they believe, and spending crisis points are one of the most leverageable of activities because there is oftentimes a date certain by which they must be dealt with. The Senate will now take up this measure and either one party or the other will blink over the weekend...or I’ll be here through the weekend and into next week voting on these measures. We will see.
Should government get shut down, here are a few details as to what it means.
Government shutdowns represent inefficiency and messiness in government operations...but they’re not quite as dramatic as the media headlines always seem to suggest. They are always partial shutdowns in fact.
In any government shutdown, national security activities, military services, air traffic control, law enforcement, and things like veterans’ hospitals are all considered essential and continue functioning. U.S. mail is delivered. Treasury auctions continue. Social Security, Medicare and welfare related payments like food stamps continue. Even the federal court system would continue to operate for about the next three weeks.
On the other hand, some of the most visible components of what we think of when we think of a federal government are deemed non-essential and therefore close. Examples here would include national parks, monuments, and the Smithsonian museums in Washington.
If a shutdown were to last for more than a few days, passport and visa applications would not be processed. Similarly, there would be a stop to new enrollments in National Institutes of Health studies, and things like the maintenance of U.S. government websites would be curtailed. Some mortgage approvals and small business loan applications could be delayed as well just as Veterans Affairs benefits, unemployment benefits, farm subsidies, and tax refunds could also be delayed.
The key as to whether or not many of these things happen would rest on how long a government shutdown lasts.
From a historical perspective there have been 12 shutdowns since 1981, and they lasted anywhere from one day to 21 days. Most occurred over a weekend with no real impact. There have been three more significant shutdowns, two in 1995 and 1996 during the Clinton administration for a total of 26 days. Then in 2013 during the Obama administration, which lasted 16 days.
Finally, in briefing you on what could hypothetically happen here, the number of federal employees subject to furlough depends greatly on how long the funding gap lasts. Most “nonessential employees” are required not to work. The president, presidential appointees, and members of Congress are exempt. For reference, during the 2013 shutdown about 40 percent of the federal workforce were placed on unpaid furlough. All were eventually paid retroactively. This part becomes a little weird because people are placed on unpaid furlough, but there is always legislation that follows that pays them back for the furlough. I’m not arguing against doing so, as rank-and-file members in federal employment roles should not be held captive to legislative tug-of-wars in Washington, but it always adds to the drama when the media makes it sound like 40% of the federal workforce will not be paid.