There was no end in sight for the record-breaking government shutdown Wednesday as 800,000 federal employees, almost half of whom are still working, face their second missed paycheck at the end of this week.
A temporary funding measure that passed the Senate in December now looks destined to fail, with Republican lawmakers saying any measure that does not include funds for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall is a nonstarter.
Democrats have rejected a White House counter-offer, crafted without their input, that would trade wall funds for two major Democratic priorities: full-year government funding and temporary protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sparred Wednesday after Pelosi denied Trump’s request to deliver his annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress while the government remains shut down. The president said the White House will announce alternate plans, but those are still pending.
Meanwhile, away from Pennsylvania Avenue, the shutdown has ground many agencies to a standstill as employees either wait at home to see when they’ll be able to go back to work or work without pay.
Government workers cannot strike under federal labor laws, but the increasing strain of the shutdown has raised the specter of an unauthorized work action like a “sick-out” or a “wildcat” strike by federal employees that could have wide-ranging impacts.
Security lines at airports around the country slowed this week as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported Monday that 10 percent of its workforce had called in sick due to “financial limitations.”
The union representing Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees said Wednesday that its members don’t have to return to work without pay under their current union contract if their experiencing financial hardship. That could cripple the agency during the upcoming tax season and delay millions of refunds.
“After a month with no pay, real hardship does exist for IRS employees including not having the money needed to get back and forth to work or to pay for the child care necessary to return to work right now,” National Treasury Employees Union president Tony Reardon told CBS MoneyWatch.
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who also directs the Office of Management and Budget, has asked agency heads what programs will be most affected if the shutdown drags into April, The Washington Post reported Wednesday — suggesting that the White House is digging in for an extended battle with congressional Democrats.
Meanwhile, the amount of money the federal government will owe furloughed workers once it reopens will balloon to nearly $6 billion by week’s end, eating into household budgets and spilling out into the wider economy as furloughed workers cut their expenses and the businesses they rely on begin to suffer.
The current shutdown doesn’t affect the Defense Department, so military salaries haven’t taken a hit. But members of the Coast Guard, which falls under the Homeland Security Department, are working without pay. On Wednesday, the Coast Guard’s commandant, Admiral Karl Schultz, took to Twitter to send a message of encouragement to fellow guardsmen and call for an end to the shutdown.
“You, as members of the armed forces, should not be expected to shoulder this burden,” Schultz said in a video. “I remained heartened to assistance available to you within the lifelines and by the outpouring of support from communities across the nation. But ultimately, I find it unacceptable that Coast Guard men and women have to rely on food pantries and donations to get through day-to-day life as service members.”