Congress passes stopgap spending bill to avert weekend shutdown

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Congress passes stopgap spending bill to avert weekend shutdown

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Lisa Powell
The Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center and the Aviation Trail Visitors Center in Dayton. A partial government shutdown in 2013 temporarily closed the historic sites. LISA POWELL / STAFF FILE PHOTO

The House and Senate on Thursday passed a stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown this weekend and buy time for challenging talks on a wide range of unfinished business on Capitol Hill.

The measure passed on a vote of 235-193 in the House and 81-14 in the Senate, and would keep the government running through Dec. 22. The resolution was set to be sent to President Donald Trump for his signature.

Without the stopgap, funding would have run out and a partial federal government shutdown would have ensued.

Cassie B. Barlow witnessed the consequences of a 16-day partial federal government shutdown in October 2013 when about 13,000 civil service employees at Ohio’s largest single-site employer were sent home on furlough at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“The biggest impact is a loss of trust on behalf of the employees and that’s something that is difficult to recover from,” the retired Air Force colonel and former base commander said in an interview Thursday with this news outlet. “These are people who have made a commitment to serve for 10, 20, 30, 40 years.”

The ripple effect of the shutdown stopped work in many cases throughout the base, which has major headquarters for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and Air Force Research Laboratory that support the entire Air Force.

“It really is just devastating and it’s very disruptive to getting work done,” she said.

Congressional votes

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said he “reluctantly” voted yes for the stop gap spending measure to extend funding for two weeks “on the condition that leadership is making representation that they’re close to a budget deal,” he said in an interview Thursday.

U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, also said he would vote for the stop gap legislation.

“Really my inclination is to vote no except that we can’t really shut the government down,” said Davidson, who expressed frustration with Senate inaction on House spending legislation.

Still, both representatives expected the temporary funding measure to pass Congress.

Turner was “not very confident” a final budget deal would be reached Dec. 22, citing uncertainty of what the Senate would do.

“If this become politics as usual, we could have a shut down,” he said.

Davidson said he was “not incredibly optimistic” a deal would be reached in two weeks with the Senate.

‘Unfortunate mood’

Troy Tingey, president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 214, which represents thousands of Wright-Patterson employees, said members were concerned but expected a shutdown would be avoided.

Still, the years-long cycle of facing potential government shutdowns has taken a toll and led some to consider more stable employment outside of civil service, he said.

“The unfortunate mood is they’ve almost become immune to it so one of these days when it actually hits this time of the year, it will have a great impact on them,” he said.

The last time a shutdown hit four years ago, the Dayton region suffered economically, said Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs.

“The effect of a government shutdown would be acute in the Dayton region because our economy is so dependent on the federal government but there would also be detrimental ripples throughout the country and it would cost our nation’s economy significantly,” he said.

S&P Global reported a shutdown could cost the U.S. economy $6.5 billion a week or 0.2 percent of gross domestic product growth in the fourth quarter, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

Two key federal agencies in the region will not be impacted, however. The Dayton VA Medical Center and its four community clinics will stay open because the agency is funded through a two-year budget, spokesman Ted Froats said.

The U.S. Post Office, which is self-funded, will continue to deliver mail, post offices will remain open and passport applications processed, according to spokesman David G. Van Allen, an agency spokesman. Mail for federal agencies, however, will be held at processing plants until government operations resume, he said in an email.

If a shutdown had occurred, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force would close Saturday and employees would be sent home until funding was restored, said spokesman Rob Bardua. The world’s largest military aviation museum attracts about a million visitors a year.

National Park Service sites in the Dayton region temporarily closed during the last shutdown.

What will happen?

Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Security in Washington, D.C., has watched Washington politics for years. He said reaching a final budget deal by Dec. 22 was “a flip of the coin.”

“The main obstacles to reaching a budget deal and getting defense appropriations passed have little to do with defense,” he said in an email. “Sixty votes are needed in the Senate to reach a budget deal, which means it has to have some level of bipartisan support. The key budget issue that needs to be resolved is the level of non-defense spending, and both Democrats and Republicans are adding non-budget issues to the negotiations as well, like immigration, health care, and the border wall.”

If a shutdown happened at the Miami Valley base, where more than 27,000 employees work, military personnel and civilian employees in key jobs would report to duty, but would not be paid until the government shutdown is over, Defense Department officials said.

Among civil service workers, the determination of who would stay home and who would report to work would depend on if the activity was tax-funded or self-funded or whether an employee’s job is deemed essential for safety, the protection of human life or national security, Pentagon officials said.

Those exempted in the last shutdown at Wright-Patterson, for example, included firefighters, police officers and health care workers.

A shutdown this time would have similar results to one four years ago, said Capt. Hope Cronin, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon.

But even with another long-term continuing resolution, the Air Force and the Defense Department would be unable to start new programs, officials said. For the Air Force, it could reduce flying hours and postpone construction of facilities, among other impacts, she said.

“In essence, it just continues fiscal uncertainty,” Cronin said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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