Partial government shutdown: Democrats are gaming out an exit strategy

The government is seven days into a partial shutdown, and pretty much everyone has thrown up their hands until the new Congress is sworn in after the new year.

Democrats are growing increasingly confident that President Donald Trump’s immovable demand for $5 billion for his southern border wall is going to land him with the blame, and indeed, polling is already starting to suggest that could be the case.

Democrats are now weighing their options for a way to end the shutdown — something they plan to make one of their first orders of business after they take control of the House on January 3. There are still seven outstanding appropriations bills that have yet to be passed, and Democrats are looking at a couple of different ways to tackle them.

As reported by Politico, House Democrats are discussing three options including 1) a short-term continuing resolution that would fund those seven areas of the government at their current levels through February 8, setting up another showdown between Democrats and Trump; 2) a longer-term continuing resolution that would fund the government through September 30 and kick this fight down the road; 3) a so-called “CRomnibus” package that would include six appropriations bills and a continuing resolution just to address the thorny issue of Homeland Security funding.

Trump has long demanded $5 billion for the construction of a wall (or other barrier) along the US-Mexico border, a proposal that is a nonstarter with Democrats, whom Trump needs in order to pass a bill in the Senate. Democrats, meanwhile, have said previously that they’d consider $1.3 billion for a broader “border security” package and have dug in on their opposition to any boosts in wall funding.

This past week, Trump has only appeared to harden his demands as well — making a resolution to the shutdown seem that much more elusive.

Early Friday morning, Trump tweeted that he might be forced to “close” the southern bordersomething he has threatened before — if he does not get his wall funding, though it’s unclear how far he could take this threat. He has also continued to blame Democrats for the fiasco, even canceling his trip to Mar-a-Lago, tweeting “poor me” from the White House on Christmas Eve.

As Democrats decide on their approach to funding the government in the new year, Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will ultimately have to determine if what Democrats have to offer is something they can accept.

As Vox’s Tara Golshan has written, both sides have made their positions clear — and neither has much incentive to relent — but growing blowback about the shutdown’s effects could soon force Republicans to the table.

Here’s what’s affected by a partial shutdown

As lawmakers try to work out some kind of compromise, hundreds of thousands of federal employees are affected by the partial shutdown — and those effects are becoming increasingly apparent as the government reopens after the holiday.

About 400,000 federal employees are furloughed as a result of the shutdown, and another 400,000 are due to work without immediate pay, while some federal agencies are limiting the services they provide. Since this is a partial shutdown, only agencies that fall under the parts of the government that have yet to be funded will see any impact.

Because national parks are overseen by the Department of Interior, which is still waiting for funding, they are expected to be open but experience limited operations, for example. Other services like veterans benefits will not observe any effects because these programs were funded earlier this year.

Additionally, mandatory programs including Medicare are due to keep running, though new sign-ups could see some delay. Workers won’t see the effects of the shutdown until their January 11 paychecks, the Office of Management and Budget told Politico, noting that pay will continue as usual until that time.

There’s also a somewhat confusing political twist as part of this shutdown.

Among the slew of “essential” government workers who will keep working despite the shutdown are active-duty members of the military as well as the majority of those working in Customs and Border Protection, including Border Patrol. (The majority of the military has previously been funded by a Department of Defense appropriations bill and only members of the Coast Guard are affected by this current shutdown.)

Both groups are scheduled to work over the holidays, though border patrol won’t receive their back pay until the government officially reopens. Ironically, this would mean that Trump is basically calling on Border Patrol to spend the holiday season working without immediate pay.

“If a lapse in appropriations were to take place, a majority of DHS [Department of Homeland Security] activities would continue,” an administration official told CNN. “For instance, those protecting our borders with the Customs and Border Patrol will continue to do so.”

What and who will keep working

  • Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid
  • United States Postal Service
  • Veterans hospitals and benefits
  • Food stamps (the agency has limited funds, but the programs will continue operating in the short term)
  • Active duty military
  • Border Patrol
  • Air traffic control and TSA
  • Museums

What will be closed or could see limited operations

  • National parks (many will remain open but have limited staffing and facilities)
  • The IRS and tax refunds
  • State Department services (passports and visas will continue to be issued, though some services could be closed)
  • Environmental and food and drug inspections

What happens now?

Trump’s border wall is at the heart of the ongoing funding conflict, and it’s the key issue that still needs to be resolved to reopen the government.

To move forward, lawmakers have already said they have to figure out a funding agreement that will satisfy congressional Republicans, Democrats, and the president — a feat that’s proven challenging thus far. The House and Senate are both in again on Monday — though House leadership has already said not to expect any votes, signaling that a resolution won’t be coming before the new year.

Negotiations so far haven’t appeared to make much progress.

Last Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence offered Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer a funding deal that included $2.5 billion for border security and was roundly rebuffed by Democrats. Pence had also previously signaled openness to $1.6 billion in border security, an offering that garnered pushback from Republicans.

With Democrats on track to take over the House on January 3, they could soon put pressure on the Senate to consider a funding package that doesn’t include any wall money. What remains to be seen is whether Trump — and Senate Republicans — are willing to agree to it.

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Correction: This piece had previously stated that all activity duty members of the military would not be paid until after the shutdown. The only branch of the military affected by this shutdown is the Coast Guard, because its appropriations fall under the Department of Homeland Security instead of the Department of Defense, which has already been funded.

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