Hours Remain Until Federal Government Shutdown

With hours remaining until the federal government enters a partial shutdown beginning at midnight, a government funding deal has yet to be struck among Congressional leaders and the White House. In what is reported to be a highly volatile situation, Congressional Republicans are beginning to place blame on Senate Democrats for forcing the political standoff and deadlocked negotiations.

Late Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed another short-term continuing resolution (CR), extending current government funding levels through February 16. The short-term CR would reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years and delay certain Affordable Care Act (ACA) taxes, but it does not address community health center funding or other critical health-related program funding. Thursday’s short-term funding measure passed in the House on a vote of 230-197 with six Democrats voting with Republicans. The House passage of the short-term CR placed the government funding onus on the Senate, where tense negotiations have been occurring throughout the week.

Senate Democrats are insisting that the government funding measure include long-term increases in military and domestic spending, as well as a solution to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA provides legal protections for nearly 700,000 immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children. The program was established under the Obama Administration, and last year, the Trump Administration announced it would rescind the program. As such, deportation protection provided to DACA recipients will begin expiring in March.

Congressional Republicans have opposed including provisions related to DACA as part of any government funding measure, instead preferring to address the matter in a separate measure at a later date. In calling for Congressional Democrats to support a short-term government funding measure, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) indicated more than a month remains to strike a deal on an immigration-related package before DACA expires.

It is unclear how the Senate plans to move forward on government funding, as well as a number of other high-profile issues including immigration. Reports suggest a three-to-five-day funding measure may be in the works to prevent a shutdown and finalize negotiations, though members of both parties have expressed little appetite for such action. Further, many members have also expressed opposition to another 30-day continuing resolution, citing the lack of productive negotiations.

In a last-minute attempt to secure a deal on a funding measure today, President Donald Trump invited Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) to the White House for additional negotiations. While those negotiations did not produce any meaningful outcomes, it was indicated discussions would continue among Congressional leaders and the White House.

For the House’s short-term funding measure to be advanced in the Senate, 60 votes are needed. Reports suggest Senate Republicans will need to secure upwards of one dozen Democratic votes for the measure to proceed given ‘no’ votes and absences among Republicans. With hours remaining until a shutdown, it is uncertain what the outcome of the highly volatile situation in Washington will be.

Should a federal government shutdown occur, widespread and long-lasting ramifications for public health at the national level are likely. Each federal agency and department would be required to develop a contingency plan and determine “essential” and “non-essential” services. “Non-essential” personnel would be furloughed, and certain government operations and services would cease.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a FY 2018 contingency plan that details plans for staffing and activities in the event of a shutdown. The guidance for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that, “CDC will continue minimal support to protect the health and well-being of U.S. citizens…” It is unclear at this time what impact a federal government shutdown will have on the state or local level.