The soon-to-be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wasted no time sending a message to President Donald J. Trump on New Year’s Eve: It’s fine to fight about a border wall. But that doesn’t require shutting down much of the government.
The speaker-designate is ready to make her point with legislation. On its first day in office, the House will take up spending bills Thursday, including provisions that recently passed the Republican-controlled Senate. Those spending bills would fund the departments of Agriculture, Interior, Housing and Urban Development and others now closed by the partial shutdown. Then the House would pass another bill to temporarily fund the Department of Homeland Security at current levels until February 8, while continuing to talk about issues related to border security. That bill does not include the $5 billion that the president has requested for a wall.
President Trump invited lawmakers to the White House Wednesday to talk about border security. His government-by-tweet message this morning: “Border Security and the Wall “thing” and Shutdown is not where Nancy Pelosi wanted to start her tenure as Speaker! Let’s make a deal?”
Rep. Pelosi, D-California, responded in a tweet: that the president “has given Democrats a great opportunity to show how we will govern responsibly & quickly pass our plan to end the irresponsible #TrumpShutdown – just the first sign of things to come in our new Democratic Majority committed to working #ForThePeople.”
The first test of any deal is basically an agreement about how to fight. Pelosi and the Democrats suggest limiting the fight to the Homeland Security budget -- and letting the rest of the government return to normal operations. She would even limit the damage from that debate by funding Homeland Security for another month. (Then, at least, those working for Homeland Security would continue to get paid.)
In a news release, Pelosi and Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said, “It would be the height of irresponsibility and political cynicism for Senate Republicans to now reject the same legislation they have already supported. Once the Senate passes this legislation and puts us on a path to reopening government, the president must come to his senses and immediately sign it into law.”
The holiday seasons masked much of the impact of the government shutdown, but between Jan. 8 and Jan. 11 many agency payroll schedules will be missed and some 800,000 workers, furloughed or on the job as “excepted” employees, will not get paid. About a quarter of the federal government does not have spending authorization from Congress.
This week more of official Washington will go into official shutdown mode. The National Archives, the Smithsonian, have closed signs hanging in front of their doors.
Kevin Gover, director of the National Museum of the American Indian, posted on his Facebook page this morning: "Day 12 of the partial government shutdown. I’m glad the Smithsonian was able to keep the museums open through the holidays using funds carried over from last year. As of today, though, we are out of money and closed to the public. I’m heading in on Metro to oversee the orderly closeout of business. By 1:00 pm the NMAI will be empty, save for the security officers who are required to work with no guarantee of payment.
I’m sad that we have to cancel a number of events and programs. I know everything will work out eventually, but for now I’m concerned about the welfare of the staff. The burden falls most heavily, of course, on the lowest-paid workers, the facilities workers and security officers and cafeteria workers. So let’s hope this is resolved sooner rather than later."
The House legislation would reopen most of government, including the Smithsonian museums.
The Democrats proposal includes $3.07 billion for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education, an increase of $13 million above last year’s funding levels and $663 million above the president’s budget. It also includes funding for Contract Support Costs. It also funds the Indian Health Service at $5.77 billion, an increase of $234 million above the last year’s funding level and $348 million above the president’s budget request. The bill fully funds Contract Support Costs.
But that bill depends on the White House’s willingness to deal.
Consider this government shutdown a practice run. There are several budget issues on the horizon that are deeply contentious that will require some sort of deal between the Congress and the White House.
The debate about increasing the federal debt limit will begin as soon as March. (The Treasury Department can extend this debate by using “extraordinary measures” to leverage cash keeping the government under its borrowing authority until late summer.) Republicans generally oppose increasing the debt limit, but it’s complicated for the party in the White House because the money has already been obligated, it’s just a question of paying bills. Democrats in the past have added automatic spending bill increases in budget resolutions.
Another issue that will impact the next budget is sequestration or across-the-board, mandatory budget cuts under the ten-year Budget Control Act of 2011. To prevent that, Congress will have to come up with another deal, one that the president agrees with, in order to prevent sequestration from happening again. But the president may agree to these kinds of budget cuts because, except for the military, it’s closer to the budgets that have been proposed.
Then that’s the fights ahead. A deal is still needed to get this government running again.
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReportsEmail: mtrahant@IndianCountryToday.com