Prospects for a December government shutdown are receding after Democrats won control of the U.S. House.
President Donald Trump backed away from his earlier threats of a “good shutdown” to extract concessions from Democrats who are resisting funding his proposed border wall with Mexico. While he didn’t rule out closing the government, he said at a post-election news conference on Wednesday that he thought he could reach a deal with Democrats.
The Democrats aren’t eager for a shutdown but have shown no willingness to pay for the wall.
“We’ve had great discussions in the appropriations process,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. “I would hope that the president wouldn’t interfere and we can get something done.”
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House poised to become speaker in January, said Wednesday she wants to find bipartisan consensus but that the party would stand its ground if it can’t, though she didn’t refer specifically to the wall.
Closing the government after Dec. 7, when the current funding bill expires, wouldn’t carry as much impact as has been seen during previous shutdowns. That’s because most federal government agencies are funded through the end of the fiscal year next September, including the large departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services.
Non-essential employees at agencies that haven’t been funded, such as the Homeland Security Department and Securities and Exchange Commission, would be placed on furlough if lawmakers and Trump fail to reach an agreement.
The president has made border security a centerpiece of his presidency, saying undocumented immigrants with criminal records pose a threat to the country. Before the elections, he repeatedly warned his supporters about a caravan of migrants from Central America who have been traveling north through Mexico toward the U.S.
Democrats have opposed the wall as costly, ineffective and a symbol of hatred toward Latinos and have rejected his warnings.
The White House and congressional Democrats haven’t been able to bridge their differences over wall funding. House and Senate Democrats back $1.6 billion for the current fiscal year and the White House has reduced its demand from $23 billion to $5 billion.
At his news conference, Trump said a shutdown is “not necessarily” on the table although “it’s possible.”
“We’re just going to have to see what happens,” Trump said. “We’re going to be fighting for it,” he said of financing for the wall.
Trump indicated there could be a deal involving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama administration program, discontinued by Trump, that shielded young immigrants from deportation. Democrats support the program.
“I think we could really do something related to DACA,” Trump said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, told reporters Wednesday that “hopefully we will not be headed down that path” toward a shutdown.
But Nita Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said her party was standing firm on the border wall. She said she wanted to be bipartisan, and planned to seek out deals with the GOP next year, but not if they betray core party values.
“Democrats will not fund Trump’s border wall,” she said. Asked if that means there is going to be a shutdown, she said, “They have a choice to make”
Were a shutdown to occur, the effects would be relatively limited.
For instance, much enforcement activity at Treasury, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission would be put off. Unless Interior Department funding is agreed upon before December, national parks would be closed. Most Internal Revenue Service employees would be furloughed since December is outside of tax filing season, as would employees at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Non-essential employees at the Justice and Homeland Security departments also wouldn’t report to work.