April Showers bring….government shutdown?

By: AmyClaire Brusch

The end of this week is not only the end of President Trump’s first 100 days in office (Saturday), but also a looming federal funding deadline (Friday).  While the current fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, due to the lack of agreement last fall on FY17 appropriations bills, the government has been under a short term Continuing Resolution (CR) that ends on Friday.  Without a new Continuing Resolution or approval of the FY2017 appropriations, the government will not be allowed to spend money and non-essential functions will be forced to shut down. Threats of a government shutdown have Washington and media outlets in a spin zone, transforming the news cycle to a traditional administration vs. Congress dispute.

Though the formal appropriations process doesn’t usually get the attention and appreciation it deserves from the media, when it comes to a funding deadline everyone pulls out some of their favorite phrases: “Shutdown Showdown”, “CROmnibus” (the CR combined with omnibus for one big funding bill), and disputed “riders” of the day (as in policy language “riders” attached every year to appropriations bills that become bargaining chips, or poison pills, in the days leading up to a deadline).

Without agreement, non-essential government functions (as determined by OMB) cease. Many non-essential federal employees will be furloughed and certain federal government locations such as national parks will be closed. Essential personnel can vary from administration to administration but typically active military, law enforcement/homeland security, medical personnel in federal hospitals, air traffic controllers remain on duty. Mail will still be delivered and social security checks will still be processed. The length of shutdown determines how quickly non-federal employees feel the impact on their daily lives. Politically, the White House and Congress will feel the impact immediately. Constituencies on all sides will be angry and let their elected officials hear it.

There are indications that an agreement is in sight. One of the high profile obstacles to agreement on the FY17 spending bills has been funding for a border wall with Mexico. In order to reach agreement, President Trump has indicated that he will not insist that it be part of the FY17 package and instead look to FY18 for funds. An agreement, or even a CR through September 30th, would free Congress and the Trump Administration to focus on FY18 funding and other large policy areas such as infrastructure. Though it looks at the moment like a shutdown will be avoided, that could change at any time. We have learned in the past 100 days that conventional wisdom rarely applies to the interactions between the Trump administration and Congress.