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Government Shutdown Update

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Source: CBS News

On Friday, January 25, 2019, Americans witnessed the much-awaited end of the longest government shutdown in US history. The 35-day partial government shutdown was temporarily ended on Friday with the signing of the ‘Further Additional Continuing Appropriations Act’, which included a short-term continuing resolution providing 2019 fiscal year appropriations through February 15, 2019, for continuing projects and activities of the Federal Government. Additionally, this bill included provisions for retroactive pay, reimbursements, and extensions of certain authorities. The government shutdown had initially stemmed from President Trump’s request for $5.7 billion in funding for border security and construction of a barrier or wall along the US-Mexico border. Although the current bill does not include funding for a barrier along the border, President Trump announced that he came to an agreement with the Democrats to negotiate a plan for border security separately, and shared that he was confident the negotiations would conclude in an agreement on wall funding.

House Democratic negotiators confirmed that their offer to Trump does not include any new money for a border wall. Alternatively, Democrats outlined a list of border security-related initiatives they are willing to fund, including money for 1,000 new customs officers and new Homeland Security agents who would take care of border issues such as drug smuggling. However, it is yet uncertain how much the Democrats are willing to spend and whether they will negotiate over physical barriers.

With the federal government reopened, the responsibility of bringing agencies back to fully operational levels has fallen upon federal officials. While some agencies were running with a skeleton staff for a month, other offices had been shut down entirely. For the past two pay periods, around 800,000 furloughed federal workers received IOUs, acknowledging their debts, instead of actual paychecks. Congress agreed on a bill to provide back pay for federal workers—a clear indication of rebuilding—although it remains unclear how long that might take. A senior administration official stated that the administration is taking steps to ensure they receive pay as soon as possible. On the other hand, federal contractors received the short end of the stick with workers such as janitors, security guards, and cafeteria workers being excluded from back pay guarantee.

While most were relieved with the temporary reopening of the government, Conservatives claimed that this deal reflected how Trump had caved-in to the Democrats. However, President Trump insisted on Twitter late Friday evening that this deal “was in no way a concession.” During his announcement, Trump warned that if negotiations over the next three weeks did not result in funding for a wall, he would resort to shutting the government down again, or declare a national emergency to build the border wall. “I have a very powerful alternative, but I didn’t want to use it at this time. Hopefully, it will be unnecessary,” Trump hinted at his potential plans which are expected to face legal challenges in court. “Walls should not be controversial,” he stated. “As commander-in-chief, my highest priority is the defense of our great country.”

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