Shutdown to last into new year
The House and Senate returned to Washington Thursday but quickly gaveled out of session for the rest of the week, ensuring the partial government shutdown will extend into next week and likely into the new year.
The White House said it’s trying to solve the shutdown but it can’t even find a negotiating partner among Democrats, with its latest offer, made over the weekend, not even earning a response from the minority party.
“The president and his team stayed in Washington over Christmas hoping to negotiate a deal that would stop the dangerous crisis on the border, protect American communities, and reopen the government. The Democrats decided to go home,” said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Democrats have shown little interest in negotiations, figuring President Trump will shoulder the blame for a shutdown and the need only wait him out. They’re also eager to take control of the House, which they figure will give them more options in the new Congress that begins Jan. 3.
Some Democrats did attempt Thursday to try to force action on a stopgap spending bill that ignores Mr. Trump’s demand for additional wall money.
Rep. James McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat, tried to gain recognition on the House floor to pass a bill continuing the 2018 spending levels into early 2019. But Rep. Luke Messer, the Republican acting as speaker, quickly gaveled the House session closed, cutting off any chance for Democratic maneuvers.
The shutdown is nearly a week old, though so far it has been far less painful than past shutdowns.
A weekend and the Christmas holiday have eased some of the pain, but perhaps a bigger factor is that Congress did manage to fund the Defense, Health, Labor, Education and Veterans Affairs departments in September, accounting for some 75 percent of annual discretionary spending.
That means the troops always the most symbolically significant federal workers are on duty and getting paid.
And of the departments and agencies that did lose money, more than half of those workers are on duty as well, including Border Patrol agents, airport baggage screeners, weather forecasters and air traffic controllers. They won’t be paid until the shutdown ends, but the public won’t see a difference in those operations.
The shutdown fight has boiled down to Mr. Trump’s demand for $5 billion in additional border wall money for 2019.
Democrats have lodged a number of complaints, including the president’s failure to get Mexico to pay for the wall.
Some Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, say they support border fencing but don’t support a wall. The White House in recent days has retreated on its demand for a “wall,” and said it will accept fencing in the form of steel slats the design the Border Patrol has been building for years already.
Neither that concession nor a retreat from the $5 billion figure the White House says it will accept a lower dollar amount have swayed Democrats.