WASHINGTON (TNS) — A host of government agencies were to shut down at midnight, sidelining hundreds of thousands of federal workers as Congress and the White House remained deadlocked over President Donald Trump's desire to build a wall along the Mexican border.
House lawmakers left the Capitol Friday night without an agreement to keep nine Cabinet departments and several smaller agencies running. The House plans to return at noon Saturday.
Senate Republicans said Friday they didn't have the votes for a House-passed measure that includes the additional $5.7 billion for border security that Trump wants.
Instead, they were hoping that the White House could reach an agreement with Senate Democrats, who are adamantly opposed to giving Trump any new money for the border wall that he promised as a presidential candidate would be paid for by Mexico.
Talks were continuing. One scenario: $1.6 billion for border security — though not for a wall.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who resisted Trump's call to launch the so-called "nuclear option" and lower the threshold for the House measure's consideration to 51 votes, chided Democrats and what he called the "open-borders, far left" for resisting what he said was a common sense measure.
Late Friday, standing on the Senate floor with a pin reading, "Senate Cranky Coalition" — a reflection of the mood of the chamber — he said he hoped "productive conversations" between the White House and Senate Democrats would result in a compromise.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., huddled with Vice President Mike Pence, and said Democrats would back money for border security, but not a wall.
Earlier, Schumer noted that the Senate had approved a spending bill without the wall money earlier this week. Then, he said, "hounded by the radical voices of the hard right," Republicans decided to insist on more wall dollars.
At the White House, Trump said last week said he'd take the "mantle" as the person responsible for the shutdown.
But on Friday he sought to blame Democrats. He told reporters that it was now "totally up to the Democrats as to whether or not we have a shutdown" and said the "chances are probably very good."
He tweeted earlier in the day that Democrats would likely vote against wall money, prompting "a shutdown that will last for a very long time."
Agencies poised to lose funding in a shutdown include the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, State, Interior, Agriculture, Treasury, Commerce and Justice, along with Homeland Security, though many of its law enforcement agents would keep working because they're considered "essential."
Other agencies, including the Pentagon, Health and Human Services, Education and energy and water programs, have been funded through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2019.
Most federal employees who perform high-profile, essential duties for officially unfunded agencies — such as the Transportation Security Agency officers manning airport checkpoints — would stay on the job, even as their paychecks are suspended. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election would continue.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command Santa Tracker — started in 1955 — will also still operate.
Each federal agency develops its own plan for a shutdown, following guidance issued by the government during past closures.
The plans, coordinated by the Office of Management and Budget, detail which government activities are put on hold and which employees are considered essential and must report to work, even if their pay is delayed.
Lawmakers said they were aware of the effects on federal workers.
"It will certainly affect families," said Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., who was shuttling between chambers Friday, checking in with senators to gauge progress. Yoder chairs the House subcommittee that writes the homeland security budget.
"In the past, we've have had a legitimate track record of always paying people for that furloughed time, but it's destabilizing for families, particularly around the holidays. so it's not in any way a desired outcome," Yoder said.
Senate Democrats estimated that a partial shutdown would affect more than 800,000 federal employees.
Employees deemed essential are required to continue working, but they'd do so without pay. Democrats estimated that would account for more than 420,000 workers, including federal law enforcement and correctional officers, FBI agents, Forest Service firefighters and Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
Another 380,000 people would stop working, also without pay, including staffers with NASA and the National Park Service.
Although parks would stay open, the administration in January noted that parks must "notify visitors that the NPS will cease providing visitor services, including restrooms, trash collection, facilities and roads maintenance (including plowing), campground reservation and check-in/check-out services."
Critics said the decision to keep the parks open is dangerous — and a bid to downplay the real effects of a shutdown.
"They're trying to diminish the impact of the bad press around a shutdown by keeping parks half-open, which is really the worst of both worlds," said Jonathan Asher, government relations manager of conservation funding at The Wilderness Society.
He said that while it's preferable to keep parks and monuments open, "if we're opening our public lands without having the proper safeguards in place for both the visitors and the resources then we're creating really dangerous situations."
Among other effects cited in an analysis by Senate Democrats:
Every local and state farm service center would close and Farm Service Agency staff wouldn't be available for consultations.
Small businesses would not have access to the Small Business Administration's federally assisted loans and technical assistance, as SBA guarantees to back loans would freeze.
The Federal Housing Administration would experience delays in loan processing and approvals, meaning that people trying to buy a new home or refinance a FHA-insured mortgage would be put on standby.
Cities, counties, and states would not be able move forward with Community Development Block Grant projects. Such projects are crucial to urban revival and upkeep.
Lease sales and permits for oil, gas, coal and other minerals on federal land and water would be suspended.
Civil litigation, payments to victims, and training for state and local law enforcement would be frozen.
Payments to public housing agencies would be delayed, potentially delaying maintenance and emergency repairs.
There could be costs associated with the lack of wages, particularly for small businesses that rely on federal workers or communities that depend on national parks for tourist dollars. The loss of pay during a 16-day shutdown in 2013 triggered an estimated 2 to 4 percent drop in spending among federal workers, who put off dining out, hiring babysitters and other expenses, according to a 2014 Stanford University study.
The National Park Service during a 2013 shutdown turned away millions to more than 400 parks and national monuments and estimated $500 million was lost in visitor spending nationwide.
The Environmental Protection Agency said it plans to keep most of its employees on the job with enough reserve funds to keep the agency open through Dec. 28.
Stan Meiburg, a former EPA acting deputy administrator under President Barack Obama and former EPA deputy regional administrator for the region that covers much of the South, has experienced several shutdowns and said they are always unsettling.
"It's extraordinarily disruptive while it's happening, and then when you come back it takes a few weeks to dig out from everything," he said.