House Republicans Reject Tentative Budget Deal; Potential for Government Shutdown Higher than Ever
For the past several months, talks of a government shutdown have grown louder and louder as members of Congress and the Administration have battled it out over legislation to fund the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2011. Republicans insist on cutting tens of billions of dollars from already cash-strapped federal agencies while Democrats have largely stood against the opposition’s draconian cuts. The result of this protracted debate has been a series of stop-gap spending measures to keep the government afloat while politicians bicker over the details.
Since the beginning of the fiscal year, Congress has passed six short term spending bills to fund the government. These bills are known as Continuing Resolutions, or “CR’s”, for short. Continuing Resolutions are temporary funding measures used by Congress to finance federal government obligations in the absence of the standard appropriations process. The amount and duration of these CR’s is the issue at the center of the spending debate on Capitol Hill.
The most recent CR, passed by Congress on March 17 and signed into law by President Obama a day later, funds the government for a mere three weeks, kicking the can down the road once again. Once the CR expires on April 8, Congress must pass another CR to keep federal agencies running or allow the government to shutdown.
This morning, we learned that the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party has rejected a tentative compromise measure to fund the government for the remainder of the 2011 Fiscal Year. Democrats were willing to concede $30 billion in cuts in order to avoid a shutdown, but still the ultra-conservatives on Capitol Hill refused to relent. With Republicans digging in their heels and refusing to compromise, the possibility of a government shutdown is now more likely than it has been in decades. What is being lost in the partisan struggle, however, is just how serious government shutdowns are, and what impact one would have on federal employees, their families, and their neighbors.
By law, when the federal government does not receive funding from Congress to carry out its obligations, it must cease all ‘non-essential’ operations. In doing so, all non-essential federal employees must be furloughed without pay until funding is restored. Employees designated as ‘essential’ are those who perform emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property, those involved in the orderly suspension of agency operations, and those performing other functions deemed ‘excepted’ from a furlough in an agency’s shutdown plan. Some examples of essential employees are doctors and nurses, national security personnel, and border patrol agents. If your agency or office is funded outside of the normal appropriations process, operations should continue as normal, to the extent that they do not rely on revenue from other federal agencies which may be furloughed.
Thus far, federal agencies have been less than forthcoming with their shutdown plans, which detail which employees are deemed essential and which are deemed nonessential. At the March 16 National Partnership Council meeting, NFFE National President Dougan asked that Council Co-Chairman Jeffrey Zients explain the lack of cooperation on behalf of the agencies. Though Zients did not have any new information, NFFE and other federal unions are keeping pressure on the government to release the plans.
NFFE General Counsel Stefan Sutich earlier this month issued bargaining guidance for Locals to use in preparation for a shutdown. This can be located on the NFFE website, www.nffe.org, in the “Important Documents” section of the Stewards’ Toolkit.
Also, in the website’s new Legislative Action Center, you can find sample letters and other useful information to contact your members of Congress. Now is the time to tell them to quit playing politics with your job by preventing a government shutdown. Please be sure to do so on your own time, using your own phone/computer, and on behalf of yourself – not your agency.