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Local congressional delegation leery of partial federal government shutdown set to begin Friday

December 18, 2018

Members of the local congressional delegation said Monday they oppose a partial government shutdown scheduled to commence at the end of this week, after President Donald Trump dug in his heels to secure funding for a border wall with Mexico.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who has voted in the past for bills that partially funded what became for Trump a rallying cry in the 2016 campaign, doesn’t want to see a shutdown, her office said.

“The congresswoman wants to avoid a shutdown at all costs,” said Jared Powell, a spokesman for McMorris Rodgers. Reports have been circulating since last week that GOP leadership in the House, scheduled to relinquish control in January, has been working on a stop-gap funding measure that would kick negotiations on wall funding into the next Congress.

McMorris Rodgers voted for a spending package in March that included funding for construction of a border wall and on the campaign trail spoke repeatedly of border security as her primary goal in any immigration legislation.

Rep. Raul Labrador, the Idaho Republican who won’t return to Congress in January after an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid, voted against that spending package in March that included funds for the border wall, joining 89 other Republicans who also voted “nay.”

Labrador’s name was floated over the weekend as a possible successor to outgoing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. His office did not respond to a request for comment Monday on the potential shutdown. Labrador has missed nine of 20 roll call votes in the House of Representatives since the beginning of November, part of a growing contingent of lawmakers who are skipping votes and causing concern among House leaders about potential votes this week, the New York Times reported Sunday.

McMorris Rodgers’ office confirmed Monday reports that the congresswoman was uninterested in the Interior secretary job. The Washington Republican was floated as a potential candidate for Trump’s Cabinet shortly after his election but later said she was never formally offered the position.

A House committee approved a spending plan this summer for the Department of Homeland Security that included $5 billion for border wall funding, but the Senate version of the same bill includes just $1.6 billion. While lawmakers have reconciled budget differences between the two chambers for some government agencies, others – including Homeland Security, Transportation, Agriculture and Financial Services – do not yet have agreements in place, setting up the potential for lack of funding beginning Friday.

It would be the third government shutdown this year. The first, in January, lasted three days. The second, at the beginning of February, lasted just a few hours.

Sen. Patty Murray, in a statement, called the specter of another shutdown “a completely unnecessary crisis.”

“Even if the president says he would be ‘proud’ to see the federal government shut down, the reality is that hundreds of thousands of workers will be on the job without pay, and local offices that families and businesses in the Spokane area rely on will be closed,” Murray said in the statement issued through a spokeswoman, referencing comments from Trump last week during a meeting with Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill about the possibility of a shutdown.

Murray called the wall proposal “wasteful” in comments to reporters in Washington, D.C., last week.

Federal agencies that would be affected by the partial shutdown were reluctant to discuss specifics about what might occur if no deal is made. Franklin Pemberton, a spokesman for the National Forest Service in Colville, said he couldn’t speculate on what a shutdown would mean for operations. The agency is tasked with certifying timber sales from federally owned woodlands, which includes the Colville National Forest.

A spokeswoman for the National Park Service, another agency that would be affected by a potential shutdown, also released a statement saying the service would not speculate about what might happen.

“We are not going to speculate on any possible change in government operations. National parks are open and continue to welcome visitors,” the statement read.

Each federal agency crafts a plan in case its appropriations from the federal government run dry. For the Park Service, that plan calls for public restrooms to be shuttered, permitting and visitor services to cease and maintenance of roads (including snowplowing) to be halted.

A report by Senate Democrats found that the partial shutdown would affect 800,000 federal workers, more than half of whom would be required to work without pay as “essential employees.” That includes law enforcement officers with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

“For us, in terms of operations, things will remain the same,” said Bill Kingsford, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s Spokane sector. Non-uniformed staff would be furloughed, he said, and those working during a potential shutdown would likely receive their paychecks once the issue is resolved, as has happened during past shutdowns.

A shutdown won’t affect delivery of mail, as the U.S. Postal Service is a separate entity, with its own funding. But security agents for the Transportation Security Administration would be among those working without a paycheck, leading to calls for a deal to be struck by the national union representing the workers.

“Our members are asking how they are supposed to pay for rent, food, and gas if they are required to work without a paycheck,” said J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, in a statement released Monday. “The holiday season makes these inquiries especially heart-wrenching.”

The shutdown would also likely affect services at the state Farm Service Agency, whose headquarters is located in Spokane. The agency, part of the Department of Agriculture, administers disaster assistance, crop price support and other services. The local office did not respond to a request for comment Monday on the potential effects of a shutdown.

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