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Speaker gets concession from President Donald J. Trump
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got a concession from President Donald J. Trump about the State of the Union. Now the annual speech is off for now. As the president tweeted: “This is her prerogative -- I will do the address when the shutdown is over.”
So perhaps something as goofy as the back-and-forth about the State of the Union will help end the dispute about the federal government’s spending and the border. How’s that? It’s a demonstration to the President of the United States that Congress is a co-equal branch of government. That is the principle that Congress wants clear on the budget. The Constitution clearly gives Congress the power of the purse, not the president.
But Congress is not in agreement. There are three players in this dispute: the House, the Senate and the Executive branch. All three have to agree on a plan and that means there will have to be concessions. So far the White House and House Democrats both define any compromise based on what happens with a border wall. The latest offer from the House would fund the $5.7 billion sought by the White House, but would spend the money on increased border security, improving the infrastructure at ports of entry, added technology, more judges, more agents, basically, everything except a physical wall.
And on the other side of town, the Office of Management and Budget asked federal agencies to plan for a longer term shutdown. "Prudent management means planning and preparing for events without known end-dates," said an administration statement. "As OMB continues to manage this partial lapse in appropriations, unfunded agencies are being asked to continue to share with OMB an ongoing list of programs that could be impacted within the coming weeks."
Of course Congress could act today, perhaps there could be a shift in the Senate. But a new poll by CBS News shows why that’s not likely. Most Americans -- more than 7 out of 10 -- say a border wall is not worth a government shutdown. But among Republicans, 56 percent support the shutdown over the wall. That makes it tough for Republicans in the Senate to vote with the Democrats on the House resolution, even on the temporary re-opening of the government. But there are a few. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, said he will vote with the Democrats on that measure. There will probably be a few more votes. But the Senate needs a 60-vote majority to pass this bill.
Across the country workers at federal agencies are warning about serious disruptions. A news release from the Air Traffic Controllers and flight attendants’ unions said: “We have a growing concern for the safety and security of our members, our airlines, and the traveling public due to the government shutdown. This is already the longest government shutdown in the history of the United States and there is no end in sight. In our risk averse industry, we cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play, nor predict the point at which the entire system will break. It is unprecedented.”
The release said there is a long list of safety-related jobs that put people at risk: “air traffic controllers, transportation security officers, safety inspectors, air marshals, federal law enforcement officers, FBI agents, and many other critical workers have been working without pay for over a month. Staffing in our air traffic control facilities is already at a 30-year low and controllers are only able to maintain the system’s efficiency and capacity by working overtime, including 10-hour days and 6-day workweeks at many of our nation’s busiest facilities.”
NBC News reported that former Chief of Staff John Kelly and four other former Homeland Security secretaries called on the president to end the shutdown and “fund the critical mission of DHS.”
A joint letter says that Department of Homeland Security employees have been leaving the department because they cannot continue to work unpaid as the shutdown drags on, NBC said. “DHS employees who protect the traveling public, investigate and counter terrorism, and protect critical infrastructure should not have to rely on the charitable generosity of others for assistance in feeding their families and paying their bills while they steadfastly focus on the mission at hand,” the letter said. “This is unconscionable.”
Meanwhile, the Indian Health Service has found a way to pay most of its federal workers. An email from acting director Michael Weahkee said the agency has been moving employees from “excepted” to “exempt.” There are three categories of federal employees, those furloughed without pay, those excepted who are working without pay, and those who are exempt because their pay is coming from a budget line that is not a part of the partial government shutdown. The email said the agency increased its exempted list to 89 percent of the civilian workers for pay period one and some checks were being processed to make that happen.
“There are still some of us who remain in the excepted status and are working with delayed pay. I ask for your continued patience -- I know it’s not easy. I want each of you to know that we hear your concerns about paying bills, supporting your families, covering basic commuting costs, and trying to remain positive in an uncertain time. Let me assure you that the IHS leadership is doing everything possible to ensure that we can pay as many of our employees as possible,” Weahkee wrote.
He said IHS is holding weekly telephone calls with tribes, health and urban organizations, to share information about the lapse in federal spending. “Some of our tribal and urban partners report having to reduce services and staff in order to retain core emergency health operations,” Weahkee wrote. “Others have shared their stories and concerns about the growing impact to their entire communities. Most encouraging is the sense of community and support generated by everyone during this time.”
Tribes and nonprofits and urban clinics have to continue their operations without federal funds. More than half of the Indian health system is operated by tribes, urban clinics, and nonprofits.
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReports