GOP seeks creative ways to avert a shutdown

GOP seeks creative ways to avert a shutdown

Republican leaders are trying to redirect their members’ immigration rage.

By Jake Sherman and Manu Raju

11/17/14 8:04 PM EST

Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are pictured. | Getty

Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are pictured. | Getty

Republican leaders have intensified their planning to prevent a government funding showdown, weighing legislative options that would redirect GOP anger at Barack Obama’s expected action on immigration and stave off a political disaster, according to sources involved with the sessions.

Obama plans to use his executive authority to change the enforcement of immigration laws by the end of the year, a move that top Republicans warn could derail efforts to pass a long-term spending bill by a Dec. 11 deadline. Increasingly, some top Republicans believe that it will be difficult to pass the year-long spending package that they originally envisioned, and are refocusing on a shorter term bill.

Speaker John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and their top aides and deputies are mulling several options that would give Capitol Hill Republicans the opportunity to vent their frustration with what they view as an unconstitutional power grab by the White House — without jeopardizing the government financing bill.

The options include offering a separate piece of immigration legislation on the floor aimed at tightening border security and demanding the president enforce existing laws, promises to renew the effort next year when Republicans have larger numbers in both chambers, and passing two separate funding bills — a short-term bill with tight restrictions on immigration enforcement agencies, and another that would fund the rest of the government until the fall.

The leadership has not made any decisions, and is likely to weigh additional options, as well. The House does not expect to bounce between options on the floor — they will pick one, and stick with it, sources said.

The strategies are all designed to prevent another standoff over funding the government. Republicans take control of Capitol Hill in January, and have promised to govern responsibly and end crisis-fueled legislating.

“I think there is a growing momentum to the idea that Congress would be acting responsibly and modestly if it funds the government but simply bars the president from executing policies that Congress believes shouldn’t be executed by denying funding,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican who will chair the Senate Budget Committee next year.

GOP leaders have not completely given up on a funding bill that would last until next October — they believe the support is quite strong, absent the executive action — but the political and legislative climate is unpredictable. The White House has not told Republican leaders when it will take unilateral action, but senior aides and lawmakers have made it clear to the Obama administration that acting before Congress funds the government would backfire.

“If the president exceeds his constitutional power, we need to be reserved in our response,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said. “I would rather wait until the senate is with us next year to respond to what the president does…I personally would like an omnibus with appropriate reforms. There are things proactively we can do, but if I had my choice we would do a sensible bill for the whole year.”

The least desirable option, according to several Republicans directly involved in planning, is a series of short-term spending bills. McConnell and Boehner desperately want to avoid a rolling set of spending fights early in the year, which would undermine their campaign promises to return Congress to regular order. An endless stream of stopgap spending bills would throw Washington back into the crisis-like atmosphere that has defined the post-2010 divided government. The dynamic amounts to the first true post-election test for Republican leaders: They want to push back aggressively on the administration without going too far.

If Republican leaders have to fall back on a short-term spending bill, it is likely to last through February or March to give McConnell time to set up and start his new majority. But the GOP clearly sees the short-term option as a losing fight. Republicans and the White House could be locked in an immigration-fueled, government-shutdown scare every two or three months. Boehner is keenly aware of the dynamic, and in a lunch meeting with his close allies last week, he said didn’t want to lump together the immigration and government-funding discussion.

But at the same time, expectations for a long-term spending bill are dampening. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who will be McConnell’s chief deputy in the new Republican majority, said an omnibus spending package — which GOP leaders had hoped to pass in the lame-duck session — seems unlikely at this point.

“It seems to me the two options are to do a temporary CR, for everything and to revisit it at all early next year — or to do something longer term on everything other than” the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees customs and border laws, Cornyn said. “But I know there will be controversy about that as well.”

Still, what exactly Republicans can do outside of the funding process to stop Obama remains an open question. Even if they had enough votes to pass a stand-alone bill, it would almost certainly be vetoed by Obama — and the GOP would likely lack the votes to overturn it. Moreover, House and Senate conservatives — who likely will be outraged by the president’s move — want to take the toughest legislative approach to force the president to cave to their demands.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday he’s been having “productive conversations with Speaker Boehner” and Senate Appropriations Chairman Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. But he expressed uncertainty over whether Boehner could control the conservative elements of his party.

“The question is whether the Republican leaders will be able to stand up to the radical forces within their own party,” Reid said from the Senate floor. “It is more than just one or two people…It’s a large number of members of the Republican caucus over here and of course the Republican caucus in the House.”

As of now, House conservatives, meanwhile, seem unsure of their strategy.

“We gotta look at what the president may do on immigration,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee. “There’s all kinds of discussions happening right now, so we’ll look at a number of things.”

But the GOP leadership is growing increasingly nervous that time is short. The House is in session until Thursday, and then doesn’t return until the evening of Dec. 1. That gives Congress just 10 weekdays — at most — to pass a government funding bill.

Cornyn said that Congress should use “every tool available to us,” and withholding money seems to be the only option.

“I think it’s got to be money focused because he could refuse to sign anything and everything we send him,” Cornyn said. “I think [a stand-alone bill] is problematic.”

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How Three Agencies Weathered the 2013 Shutdown

How Three Agencies Weathered the 2013 Shutdown

Philip Bird LRPS CPAGB/

In the same week that Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., vowed to avoid future government shutdowns, the Governmental Accountability Office weighed in on Friday with new documentation on the disruption visited upon three agencies during the October 2013 16-day closure.

Cessation of patient registration for clinical trials, delays in graduation of Merchant Marine Academy students, postponed public transit grants, and shuttered environmental management offices were some of the effects of the expired appropriations at the National Institutes of Health and the Transportation and Energy departments, GAO found.

Carried out at the request of Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who chairs the Senate Budget Committee’s Government Performance Task Force, GAO focused on units in three departments GAO selected “based on the value of grants and contracts, the percentage of employees expected to be furloughed, and the potential for longer-term effects,” the report said.

Auditors reviewed department contingency plans and economic forecasters’ analyses, while interviewing officials from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Personnel Management and associations. Auditors also cross-checked the data used in OMB ‘s year-old publication “Costs of the October 2013 Federal Government Shutdown,” finding them reliable.

Within the Health and Human Services Department, “grants management activities at NIH effectively ceased with employee furloughs, although most current grant recipients were able to draw down funds,” GAO noted. “NIH had to reschedule the review process for over 13,700 grant applications because of the shutdown. After the shutdown, NIH completed the process to meet the next milestone in January 2014.”

At Transportation, the Federal Transit Administration “effectively ceased with grants management officials furloughed and no payments made on existing grants,” GAO said. FTA officials said that no new grant awards were processed because of the shutdown, “but the effect was minimal because the grant processing system is typically unavailable in early October for fiscal year closeout activities.”

At Energy’s Office of Environmental Management, “contract activities generally continued because of the availability of multi-year funding, but more than 1,700 contractor employees who operate and maintain EM facilities were laid off or required to use leave because EM issued stop-work orders. EM officials reported some programs required four months to return to pre-shutdown levels of contract activity,” the report said.

Some of the potential disruption—economic estimates of which GAO also examined—was mitigated by the selected department’s “experience with preparing for prior potential shutdowns, funding flexibilities (such as multi-year funding), and ongoing communications internally” with OMB and OPM, the auditors found.

“OMB staff addressed questions from agencies on how to communicate about the shutdown with their employees, but did not direct agencies to document lessons learned from how they planned, managed, and implemented the shutdown for future reference,” the report said.

GAO’s recommendation for the future is that agencies dealing with a shutdown better document the impact. OMB declined to take a position on the recommendation.

(Image via Philip Bird LRPS CPAGB/

Shutdown talk grows in GOP

Shutdown talk grows in GOP

By Scott Wong,Rebecca Shabad and Cristina Marcos – 11/14/14 04:07 PM EST

Conservative House Republicans say they’re willing to shut down the government to prevent President Obama from carrying out what they see as unconstitutional actions on immigration.

Tea Party lawmakers emboldened by the GOP’s big midterm gains say they will insist on attaching a policy rider to legislation keeping the government open that would block funding for agencies carrying out Obama’s promised executive actions limiting deportations.

If the Democratic Senate or Obama rejects the rider, the government could shut down. A current measure funding the government expires on Dec. 12.

“I am insisting on that [rider] because the president is violating his executive privilege,” GOP Rep. Paul Gosar, who represents the border state of Arizona, said in an interview Friday.

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) called the plan to block the executive action through the government-funding bill “a great idea.” Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), who defeated then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the June GOP primary in part by accusing his opponent of supporting “amnesty,” said he also backed the proposal.

Asked if a government shutdown would be worth halting Obama’s immigration action, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) replied: “When you take an oath to uphold the Constitution, it is not appropriate to contemplate the political consequences. You should uphold the Constitution come what may.”

The call to arms by conservatives is a challenge for GOP leaders in both chambers, who also oppose executive action by Obama but acknowledge they have not settled on a plan to stop it.

“There’s no decision on the strategy, but we know for one thing that the president should not move forward,” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters Friday.

It’s unclear what Obama will do, but reports this week that he is considering expanding an existing program that defers the deportation of children who entered the U.S. illegally to both their parents and additional children have provoked outrage on the right.

Obama’s proposals could give legal status to 5 million people, some reports suggest.

Republicans say there’s no consensus in the broader GOP conference about how to respond when Obama issues his executive order as early as next week.

Just a year ago, conservative Republicans led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz closed the government for 16 days in a failed bid to defund ObamaCare. GOP leaders taking over the Senate would like to avoid a repeat of that scenario.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed Thursday that Republicans would not shut down the government or default on the nation’s debt.

But hours later, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), fresh off winning another two years in the top spot, said the GOP would “fight tooth and nail” to stop Obama and that all options remained on the table.

Senior GOP aides said the Republican response could be a combination of blocking executive-branch nominees when Republicans take over the Senate next year and expanding a GOP lawsuit against Obama to cover his immigration action.

More moderate Republicans are trying to talk their conservative colleagues down from the ledge, warning that the GOP surely will be blamed for another shutdown. Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) is plowing ahead with a clean omnibus package that would keep the government open through September 2015.

That approach has the support of senior appropriators, including Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).

“I don’t blame people for being mad and proposing ideas,” Cole said. “I personally think it’s just a losing strategy. It didn’t work for ObamaCare. There’s no way it’s going to work here… My view is shutting down the government is never the appropriate remedy.”

One incoming freshman elected in last week’s GOP wave, Florida Republican Carlos Curbelo, was reserving judgment and even suggested Obama’s executive immigration action could be legal.

“I recognize that every president has executive authority. The extent of that authority is in question,” said Curbelo, a Cuban-American who supports the Senate-passed comprehensive immigration reform bill. “Let’s see how the president decides to act.”

But many other moderates and conservatives are echoing Boehner’s talking points: Nothing at this point should be taken off the table.

“I certainly don’t want a government shutdown but the Speaker said everything has to be on the table if the president is taking what we consider to be unconstitutional action,” said Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.). “We’re going to have to take action back. I hope it never reaches that stage though.”

“No one wants to risk a government shutdown,” added Tea Party Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), who is Hispanic. “But this is an important enough issue that all options need to be on the table.”

While Republicans took a hit in the polls last year, conservatives believe Obama and Democrats would be blamed in Round 2.

“I think there is plenty of opportunity here that doesn’t risk a government shutdown but if the cards are played, America knows who was responsible for shutting down the government last time,” said Gosar. “It was very clear it wasn’t Republicans and it wasn’t Congress.”

House conservatives have been coordinating an immigration response with allies in the Senate. But Steve King, the immigration hard-liner from Iowa, wouldn’t offer specifics about whether he’s spoken with Cruz or incoming Senate Budget Chairman Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) about the plan.

“I wouldn’t be able to say that I walked over to that side of the Capitol,” King said. “We have an open communication between our staff so that dialogue does take place.”

But King took aim at establishment Republicans like McConnell for immediately ruling out a shutdown.

“It is the equivalent of the president in our battle with ISIS [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] saying there will be no boots on the ground,” King said.

A Primer on Federal Pay and Benefits in Case the Government Shuts Down Again

A Primer on Federal Pay and Benefits in Case the Government Shuts Down Again

Flickr user James Marvin Phelps

The government probably won’t shut down this fall. But if it does, we thought a refresher on how shutdowns affect federal employees’ pay and benefits would be useful.

When Congress returns to Washington next week, its top priority will be to pass legislation keeping the government open past Sept. 30, the last day of fiscal 2014. This is familiar territory: Everything is on the table, including a short-term continuing resolution funding agencies into December after the November mid-term congressional elections, followed by another CR during the lame-duck session taking the government into early 2015. Appropriators also have said they could try to craft an omnibus package funding multiple agencies; it’s also possible lawmakers craft a ‘mini-bus’ that includes several agencies, and pass other stand-alone appropriations for large departments like Defense.

Still, at least one vocal Republican lawmaker — Rep. Steve King of Iowa — has said legislation keeping the government open could be at risk if President Obama tackles immigration reform through executive order, which he has repeatedly said he will do.

The fiscal 2015 appropriations process started off strong, but has been stymied by controversial debates over amendments and the politics of an election year. The House so far has managed to pass seven of 12 fiscal 2015 spending bills; the Senate has not passed any yet. The House-passed fiscal 2015 appropriations bills are: Commerce, Justice, Science; Defense; Energy and Water; Financial Services and General Government; Legislative Branch; Military Construction and Veterans; and Transportation/Housing and Urban Development.

In the event we have a repeat of October 2013, when much of the government was shuttered for 16 days, here’s what federal workers should keep in mind regarding their pay and benefits:

  • Salaries: Agencies must pay excepted and exempted employees for the days they work during a shutdown, though they won’t see that pay until after the shutdown ends. If you’re furloughed during a shutdown, there is no guarantee you will be paid, since it’s up to Congress. However, Congress has always approved back pay for federal workers furloughed during shutdowns.
  • Bonuses: Agencies can give out performance awards during a shutdown, which will be paid to employees when funds are available.
  • Unemployment Compensation: Furloughed federal workers could be eligible for unemployment compensation, depending on where they live.
  • Health care: Furloughed employees are still covered under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program during a shutdown. As for employees’ biweekly FEHBP contributions to their premiums, that will accumulate during the shutdown and be deducted from their pay when they return to work. Employees cannot temporarily halt their FEHBP enrollment while in non-pay status. As for the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program, workers furloughed for two consecutive pay periods will receive a bill in the mail for their FEDVIP coverage and will have to pay it if they want to keep their insurance.
  • Retirement benefits: Retirees in both the Civil Service Retirement System and the Federal Employees Retirement System will receive their annuity benefits during a shutdown. Furloughed employees enrolled in the Thrift Savings Plan will not contribute to their accounts during their nonpay status and their agency contributions will stop during that time. Once the shutdown is over and funds are available, contributions will resume and employees will receive retroactive benefits. Click here for TSP’s guidance during a government shutdown.
  • Leave: Employees cannot use paid leave instead of taking an unpaid furlough day during a government shutdown. Previously scheduled sick or annual leave days will be canceled if the government closes.

Click here to read (re-read) the full government shutdown guidance on federal pay and benefits from the Office of Personnel Management published last fall.

A government shutdown is pretty unlikely at this point, given last year’s 16-day closure, which even House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, blamed on the Republicans, and the upcoming elections. So, federal workers shouldn’t panic. Congress has a much stronger incentive for keeping the government open in 2014 than it did in 2013: job security.

(Image via Flickr user James Marvin Phelps)

Government may owe employees millions in shutdown damages

Government may owe employees millions in shutdown damages


Protesting federal employees display placards during an Oct. 1, 2013, anti-shutdown demonstration.

The government could owe hundreds of thousands of federal employees millions of dollars in damages for its inability to pay salaries during the shutdown last year.

A small group of federal employees sued the government on Oct. 24, 2013. Their argument: For the pay period that began Sept. 22 and ended Oct. 5, 2013, the federal government paid for only one week — which put many employees below minimum wage during the second week.

Even though employees were later paid for that work, they suffered losses from the initial shorted paycheck. Federal employees were unable to pay bills on time and had to deal with creditors and should be eligible for additional damages as a result, according to the lawsuit. Continue reading “Government may owe employees millions in shutdown damages”

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