Anyone who’s witnessed President Trump’s First 100 Days would be hard pressed to imagine a more needlessly dramatic scenario than crashing headfirst into the end of federal government funding. Yet this is what will happen on Friday, and between now and then, Congress must come to an agreement on a new budget or risk the dreaded government shutdown. To put things simply, Congress will not only battle over the usual spending issues, but they’re also dealing with a president who has something — anything — to prove before his opening act draws to a close.
Federal funding often comes down to the wire, but the issue feels more urgent this time around because Trump brings the drama. Plus, Congress was never able to agree on a 2017 appropriations bill last year, so it settled for passing a Continuing Resolution (CR), which kept the government running in its 2016 state on a short-term basis. And both the House and Senate took a lengthy recess this month, which leaves only a few precious days to agree on a comprehensive funding bill for the rest of fiscal 2017.
Both Democrats and Republicans, not to mention Trump, are willing to fight for their funding demands, and even more significantly, Trump made some huge promises that he’s yet to fulfill. On the immigration front, he’s 0 for 2 after judges shut down both his quest to defund sanctuary cities and his revised travel ban. Plus, Trumpcare exploded on impact. So, that leaves … the Great Wall that he wants to build between the U.S. and Mexico. Will Trump budge if Congress isn’t willing to fund this monstrosity?
The president signaled early this week (at a conservative media reception) that he was cool with “delaying a fight” over the Wall to avoid a shutdown. However — and you knew this was coming — he later tweeted, “Don’t let the fake media tell you that I have changed my position on the WALL.”
So, perhaps the Wall will be the sticking point, which makes sense from a Trump standpoint. He’s maneuvering to end his 100 days with a major accomplishment other than his nebulous (and ongoing) “jobs” claims and successfully appointing a Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, to the bench. However, Democrats aren’t likely to okay Wall funding on the first go.
The last time a shutdown happened was in 2013 when Congress couldn’t agree on a budget while the GOP tried to defund Obamacare. This shutdown lasted 16 days. Prior to that, a major shutdown occurred in 1996 when Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich clashed and shut down federal ops for 21 days.
What would actually happen in the case of a 2017 shutdown? Lots of minor inconveniences and a few big ones. Let’s break this down.
Federal Employees Will Largely Go On Furlough
In the case of a 2017 shutdown, hundreds of thousands of “nonessential” government employees shall be sent on an unpaid vacation. So, NASA and National Zoo staff members are mostly outta luck for the duration. However, an estimated 2.2 million federal employees provide services that are too essential to shelve. This would include TSA agents at the airport, along with FBI agents, federal prison guards, medical personnel at VA hospitals, federal emergency personnel and — of course — border patrol officers. Countless other federal employees would keep working while their pay is delayed.
U.S. Military Personnel Will Suffer But Stay On Duty
Those who serve their country on an active duty basis will man their posts, although the Department of Defense isn’t allowed to issue paychecks during a shutdown, so paychecks may not arrive, and the delay may be indefinite. However, Congress decided during the 2013 shutdown that the Pay Our Military Act should immediately be passed to keep those paychecks flowing, which could happen again.
Your Snail Mail Should Be Fine
Like the Federal Reserve, the United States Postal Service still — despite the overwhelming popularity and convenience of email and online bill pay — makes enough money by selling postage to justify its continuation. The USPS is actually a semi-independent entity within the federal government and is largely self-funding, so they’re safe.
Low-Income School Lunches And Food Stamps Are Generally Safe
Those children who receive free school lunches don’t have to worry about going hungry during a shutdown. Likewise, the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP, also known as Food Stamps) keeps on running regardless of Congress getting it together for annual funding. However, the Supplemental Nutrition For Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program is vulnerable to a shutdown but generally finds a way to keep running.
National Museums, Parks, and Monuments Will Close
Any federally funded museums such as the Smithsonian National Museum (which is ordinarily free and easy to the public) will shutter during a shutdown. Likewise, any national monuments or parks, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Grand Canyon, Statue of Liberty, or even Yosemite and Rocky Mountain National Parks, will be closed to tourists and travelers alike. Barricade city, folks.
Passports And Visas Will Still Arrive Via The State Department, But Slooow
Although the U.S. passport service receives some hefty fees from applicants, a lack of Congressional funds will slow the application processing rate. On a related note, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services won’t stop processing green cards.
Airport Travel May Be Even More Tedious Than Usual
This method of travel can already be extraordinarily frustrating, and complications could increase with a shutdown. TSA will keep operating, along with air traffic controllers, because safety concerns means that these employees are too essential to furlough. However, some associated workers may be considered non-essential ones, so delays may occur.
However, Amtrak Travel Should Be Safe
Since Amtrak operates largely through ticket-sale revenue, the fact that it receives federal subsidies isn’t much of an issue. In fact, Amtrak has never closed during shutdowns of yesteryear, so this method of travel will keep on trucking, so to speak.
The National Weather Service & National Hurricane Center Will Stay Open
Since rain, snow, hurricanes, and tornadoes do not contemplate funding while destroying homes and endangering lives, these potentially lifesaving services continue to operate regardless of the feds’ actions.
Social Security Won’t Know the Difference
Not much that Congress does while debating annual funding would shut down the Social Security program. So, checks will neither be denied nor delayed, especially since the Post Office will stay up and running, no matter whether it’s rain or shine, shutdown or not.
Federal Courts Will Close, But Not Right Away
If a shutdown continues for over ten days, federal courts will halt until government services resume, but cases should pick up where they left off. During the duration, however, the Supreme Court will continue to draw paychecks (as will Congress and President Trump, of course).
Congressional Offices Will Vary
Some House and Senate members will keep their offices up and running. However, most of their staff members will go on furlough with the exception of employees who are necessary to help with the legislative process (i.e., drafting bills and interacting with constituents).
Can A Shutdown Be Averted No Matter What?
It’s possible for Congress to pass a short-term spending bill (in the form of another CR), which would give lawmakers up to a week to pull themselves together while working toward a long-term measure. However, it’s highly unlikely that Trump’s Wall would be part of this bill, which would generally only apply to keeping existing and necessary government services running.
Will we see a shutdown in the next few days? Stay tuned, for whatever Trump does, it surely won’t be a low-key affair.