Shutdown threat ends with WH-Congress spending deal

The good news: After months of worry about a looming government shutdown, Congress and the White House Sept. 7 reached a widely-reported deal that—when passed and signed—will end that threat.

The bad news? While the deal cures the two most pressing financial problems—funding for federal agencies and raising the debt ceiling—it covers only the next three months.

That’s right: By December, feds are likely to feel déjà vu all over again—facing the same sense of work and pay uncertainty.

But—for a blessed moment—as the deal was announced, federal employees and their union leaders found themselves celebrating the deal.

“I applaud President Trump and congressional leaders for agreeing to fund the government and increase the debt ceiling for the next three months,” J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said. “The risks of a government shutdown or defaulting on our debts are too great to hold either issue hostage to partisan politics.”

“With this agreement in place, the American people can be confident that their government will continue to deliver the programs and services they expect and will be able to pay its bills on time,” Cox continued. “I can only hope that this bipartisan agreement marks a turning point in lawmakers being willing to cross party lines to reach consensus on other issues that are equally vital to our national interests.”

The bipartisan deal was reached, in part, due to significant pressure on all parties to keep desperately needed money flowing to federal agencies active in the disaster zones in Texas and Louisiana affected by Hurricane Harvey—and those preparing to help regions in Hurricane Irma’s sights.

The deal, expected by almost all Washington observers to pass, will provide billions of dollars in disaster relief funds to the hurricane-damaged and –threatened areas, as well as keep the federal government going until Dec. 15 under a continuing resolution.

On the same day that the deal was announced, Anthony Reardon, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union held a telephone media briefing. Reardon, like Cox, offered his hope that Congress and the White House would continue to work together to avoid shutdowns—this fall, and in the future.

“I really hope that Congress can work together to make sure that we’re not on the brink of another shutdown,” Reardon told reporters. “I don’t think there is anything that is helpful [about one]—so for the good of our country, I think this repeated threatened disruption of our government operations, really, has got to stop.”

“Federal employees want to do their job,” he added.

Reardon’s briefing was billed primarily as announcing a new televised NTEU public service announcements, with the theme “Federal Employees…They Work For U.S.” But the shutdown issue dominated much of the discussion.

Along with hope, NTEU’s Reardon conveyed more than a hint of worry that the shutdown threat might happen all over again toward the end of the calendar year. 

“Remember that the White House and Congress are only talking about a three-month continuing resolution,” Reardon said. “So, we could be right back at a potential shutdown in mid-December of so.”

The federal government was last shut down in October 2013, but—with ongoing sharp partisan and ideological divisions in Congress and the Executive Branch—threats of further shutdowns are likely to persist into December—as they have for some time now.

Along those lines, NTEU’s Reardon reminded reporters that feds have had to face shutdown anxiety “every single year” in recent times—and that such concerns continue to be a real drag on morale, and actual functioning.

“Think about this for a second,” Reardon said, challenging reporters. “Had we been in a shutdown situation while Harvey hit, or Irma is going to hit: What would happen?” Reardon conjectured how bad it would be for victims to not have the full range of federal agencies currently involved in relief in Texas and preparations in Florida, present and preparing.

Reardon also discussed the sheer waste of political impasses leading to tons of makework planning for agency closures.

“Every single time we go to the brink of a shutdown, agencies have to go through a series of detailed steps in [preparing for] systematically shutting down the government,” Reardon said. “That takes a huge amount of time—to prepare for, and to actually carry out.”

“And, so every single year there is such a huge amount of lost productivity with the government having to go through all of those steps,” Reardon said.

“I don’t think it is good for anybody,” Reardon said. “Shutdowns ultimately cost the government and the taxpayers money.”

Standard & Poors, the financial consulting firm, estimated that the 2013 shutdown indeed cost the economy and taxpayers at least $24 billion.

Reardon also emphasized the human costs—the pain and dent in morale the issue causes to federal employees.

“I don’t think it is good for our civil servants, every single year—and in some cases multiple times each year, to be worried about whether they are going to have a paycheck,” he said. 

“I travel around the country a great deal,” he noted. “I talk to a lot of federal employees and NTEU members, and, candidly, they find this annual dance, if you will, [around funding bills and shutdown threats] very demoralizing to them.”

“And the other part they mention to me is how disruptive this is to the taxpayers, to the American citizenry, that they serve,” Reardon said.

Reader comments

Mon, Sep 11, 2017

Maybe next time we do not pay congress senate,& management bloats. Let the line employees do the work that is needed and not pawns of the political minions.

Fri, Sep 8, 2017

What about cutting the FERS retirement benefits? What about the high 3 to high-5 changes

Fri, Sep 8, 2017 Sam

Only buys 3 months. All sides will be fighting again soon and the government could shut down most employees.

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Edward A. Zurndorfer Certified Financial Planner
Mike Causey Columnist
Tom Fox VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service
Mathew B. Tully Legal Analyst

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