Well..the shutdown is here.
As a consequence, I have been here in Washington with more of the “hurry up and wait” that I alluded to yesterday. It’s been a different day.
Therefore, let me layout a few more of the nuts and bolt of what's happening, some of the fundamentals in the debate before us, and what it might mean for people in the Lowcountry.
As I mentioned yesterday, financial deadlines represent real deadlines. This is in contrast to so many supposed hard dates in Washington that come and go. It is with these real deadlines that different political actors try and attach things that they believe in and want to advance.
Such is the case with the DACA issue. As I suspect you know, the status of 690,000 young unauthorized immigrants is the centerpiece of what House and Senate Democrats are trying to attach to the funding bill. Republicans have made the point that this is an arbitrary deadline. The legal status for this population will not change until March 5th, which marks the six-month anniversary of the president’s statement and his call for review. What Democrats in this instance are doing is trying to force this issue prior to that deadline of March.
In fairness, it was this strategy that people like Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi decried in the 2013 government shutdown, but time and circumstance often changes perspective in politics. I voted for in essence a “clean” continuing resolution that would fund government for one month. The belief is that during that month, Republicans and Democrats can find a way to come together on DACA and border security issues. The present continuing resolution passed by the House includes the obvious in terms of funding for the military and other functions of government, and it also noticeably contains a six-year reauthorization of state CHIP funding, which is vital in providing health insurance to low income children.
In a “shutdown,” federal agencies must stop all non-essential, discretionary functions until new funding legislation is passed and signed into law. Essential services continue to function as do mandatory spending programs.
So what counts as essential?
Each agency determines that in consultation with the White House Office of Management and Budget. But generally, it is anything related to public safety – border protection, in-hospital medical care, air traffic control, law enforcement, military services, and power grid maintenance.
Mandatory spending, which is not subject to annual appropriations, such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits, also continue. Additionally, activities that are funded by user fees are not subject to appropriations, such as passport and immigration services, that are funded by visa fees.
A few more specifics...
Defense and VA: All active-duty service members will continue in a “normal duty status” and those on reserve component. Civilian personnel, including military technicians, who are not necessary to carry out or support excepted activities, are to be furloughed. VA estimates that 95.5 percent of its total workforce will report to work because these employees are either funded by advanced appropriations or deemed essential personnel. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA), VA’s largest administration, received advanced appropriations for Fiscal Year 2018 and will continue full operations.
Social Security and Medicare: Checks will continue to be sent out, but new application processing would cease.
Environmental and Food Inspection: In 2013, 95 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency workforce was furloughed. Inspections of some 1,200 different sites, including - hazardous waste, drinking water, and chemical facilities - stopped. The Food and Drug Administration delayed almost 900 inspections.
National Parks: Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter are both closed. During the 2013 shutdown, the National Park Service closed more than 400 sites. It estimated the 16-day shutdown resulted in more than half a billion dollars in lost visitor spending.
Health and Human Services: The National Institutes of Health would stop admitting new patients and grant applications but would continue caring for current cancer patients. In 2013, states had to advance the money to keep some formula grant programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families going.Internal Revenue Service (IRS): The IRS verifies income and Social Security numbers and would likely stop or delay these services. In 2013, 1.2 million mortgage and other loan approvals were delayed. As tax season is almost upon us, tax refunds could be delayed.
Bottom line: If agency shutdown plans are similar to those in place in 2013, about half of 2.1 million non-postal federal employees would be furloughed. In 2013, most of the 350,000 of the 800,000 civilian employees of the Department of Defense were summoned back to work within a week after legislation was passed to bring them back to work. Any furloughed employee would not be allowed to work and would not get paid. While Congress has historically granted back pay, there is of course no guarantee.
Impact depends on how long a shutdown lasts. It was 16 days in 2013. Director Mulvaney has said the federal government has some flexibility on how impactful this will be and will encourage agencies to use carry forward funds and other available fund sources.
This is a big deal. In 2013, the Obama Administration closed things like the Lincoln Memorial in an effort to make the shutdown more politically real. We had folks from home coming up and volunteering to cut the grass on the Mall! So working to minimize the level of disruption is indeed a big deal, and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney deserves credit for his decision to do so.
Specifically, he has said, “From an OMB perspective because we are involved in managing a lapse or a shutdown, we want to make folks understand that it will look very different than it did under the previous administration. One of the things I've learned since I've been in this office is, there is no other way to describe it, but the Obama administration weaponized the shutdown of 2013. What they did not tell you is they did not encourage agencies to use carry-forward funds, funds that they were sitting on. Nor did they encourage agencies to use transfer authority. They could have made a shutdown in 2013 much less impactful, but they chose to make it worse. The only conclusion I can draw is they did it for political purposes. So it will look different this time around."
Finally, given leadership should be by example, I made it a point today to send a letter to the Clerk’s office to ask that they withhold my pay until an Appropriations agreement has taken affect. In instances like these, I think it’s important to figuratively get in the boat with those that I represent. Contractors at SPAWAR will be feeling uncertainty as to what comes next, and I therefore thought this important.