The specter of a partial federal government shutdown looms at midnight Friday, but many federal employees feel “immune” to the threat of being sent home in a repeated cycle of last-minute stopgap spending measures to avert a shutdown, union leaders say.
“I think employees are actually getting immune to it,” said Troy Tingey, president of the American Federal of Government Employees Council 214, which represents several thousand employees at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
But many also have lost patience.
“A lot of them are starting to look for other career fields in the private sector,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. “They’ve had about enough of this.” And some are rethinking who should represent them in Congress, he added.
Congressional leaders are faced with the prospect for the fourth time since September voting for a short-term spending measure – called a continuing resolution – to avoid a government shutdown through mid-February. The consequences of a shutdown would likely furlough thousands of civil service workers at Wright-Patterson, as it did in 2013.
The House passed a stopgap spending measure in a 230-to 197-vote late Thursday. The bill now heads to the Senate where its fate was uncertain Friday.
President Donald Trump injected confusion by tweeting Thursday that a children’s health care program should not be part of a short-term budget agreement. The White House quickly said Trump indeed supports the House GOP measure, which would extend the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, for six years and keep the government’s doors open through Feb. 16.
Waiting for word
Although a base spokesperson said Wright-Patterson has not received instructions to prepare for a shutdown, the last time a closure happened some civil service employees, such as police, fire, and medical workers, or those who were involved with the protection of life and property, were exempt. Military personnel stayed on the job.
Even so, when they report to work, they would likely not be paid until a funding deal was reached, two Wright-Patterson firefighter union leaders said.
“There is some stresses for some of our guys because they aren’t sure what’s going to happen,” said Brian Grubb, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local F88 at Wright-Patterson.
“I think for some of the newer employees that haven’t had to navigate this or just not knowing how long this potential shutdown could be …. there’s that uncertainty,” said Steven E. McKee, Local F88 secretary-treasurer and a firefighter.
“I can’t imagine a Google, Facebook or Ford Motor co. … running as inefficiently,” McKee said, adding “it’s a huge impediment, a hindrance and it’s not right. It’s not fair to either the federal worker and or the citizen.”
Tingey said many members have lost confidence in Congress and the White House.
“When we get out there and we talk to (employees), they just have lost all confidence and respect in not only in (the) House and Senate, but in the administration as a whole,” he said.
U.S. Reps. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, and Brad Wenstrup, R-Cincinnati, both members of the House Armed Services Committee, indicated Thursday they would vote for stopgap funding to keep the government open.
“We’re in the sad position of having to vote for another continuing resolution which shortchanges our military and our men and women in uniform,” said Turner, who has Wright-Patterson in his congressional district. “I believe that will pass the House … and then the Senate will be in a position to on a short-term basis continuing funding the government.
“The Senate has to stop holding the budget deal hostage,” Turner added. “They refuse to negotiate and discuss the budget deal until immigration is resolved and the government hasn’t been funded since the end of September. These are unrelated issues. They need to proceed in a decoupled fashion and it’s doing real damage to our military that Senate Democrat leadership continues to take that stand.”
Democrats are demanding a deal on legislation to offer protection from deportation to younger immigrants who were brought to the country as children and now are here illegally as a prerequisite for any longer-term government funding agreement. They say the four-week duration of the House continuing resolution is too long and would take the pressure off of immigration negotiations.
“We can’t keep careening from short-term CR to short-term CR. If this bill passes, there’ll be no incentive to negotiate and we’ll be right back here in a month with the same problems at our feet,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.“Eventually, we need to make progress on the biggest issues before us.”
Wenstrup said lawmakers were “diligently” trying to prevent a shutdown.
“I think we’ll get there, but I’ve been wrong before,” he said.
Funding the military is the highest priority with the threats the United States faces around the world, he said.
“Although a CR likely will not have what we want in terms of funding our military fully, a CR is probably our least bad option and closing down the government is an even worse option,” said Wenstrup, who added a shutdown would mean training for National Guard and reserve troops would stop.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has not indicate how he will vote on a short-term funding measure. He is waiting to see what is in the legislation before making a decision, his office said Thursday.
“There is no reason for a government shutdown,” the senator said in a statement. “Congress needs to come together and do its job.”
A spokeswoman for Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Portman would vote yes on a short-term spending resolution.
“Rob believes both parties have a responsibility to keep the government funded and ensure safety and stability for all Americans, especially those serving in our armed forces,” spokeswoman Emily Benavides said in an email. “He will certainly vote to keep the government open.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.