Federal shutdown would hit workers, contractors and parkgoers hardest

WASHINGTON — A shutdown of the federal government at midnight Friday if Congress fails to act on a spending bill would cause hardship to contractors and federal workers in Nevada and elsewhere, but essential services at military bases, airports and veterans hospitals would continue, officials say.

If a shutdown does occur, the nearly 11,000 federal civilian employees and an unknown number of federal contractors in Nevada would likely bear the brunt of the closure. Past government shutdowns have seen workers at federal agencies furloughed and federal contractors sidelined without pay.

A shutdown also would likely prompt the closure of popular national parks and monuments, including Red Rock Canyon and Lake Mead recreation areas, damaging tourism and adding to the public perception that Washington is dysfunctional.

Fearing a possible political backlash by voters in an election year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Republican leaders are trying to fashion a temporary spending bill that could garner Democratic support to keep the government running in the short term.

“There is no reason Congress should hold the government hostage,” McConnell said Tuesday.

Tough climate for talks

But ongoing talks have not been easy and blew up once over accusations that President Trump used vulgar language to describe Haiti and African countries during private talks with lawmakers last week about immigration reform. Trump denies he said the reported vulgarity.

Democrats want a deal on immigration, especially a permanent replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, in exchange for their support on a temporary spending bill that would keep the federal government running at fiscal 2017 levels.

“We must compromise” to avoid a shutdown, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday.

“A very fair deal remains on the table. The only person who is blocking it is President Trump,” Schumer said, referring to a bipartisan DACA deal reached last week but torpedoed by the president.

So-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought here illegally as children, were given temporary protection from deportation by President Barack Obama in 2012 under the DACA policy, which was discontinued by Trump in September. Trump gave Congress until March 5 to provide a legislative fix, though a federal judge last week called a temporary halt to the process while various lawsuits play out in the courts.

Democrats are under pressure from immigration advocates to use their leverage to force Republicans to accept a deal on DACA. Trump has signaled his willingness to provide protections, but only in exchange for funds for a southern border wall and an end to the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, also known as the green card lottery.

Clock is ticking

That impasse has federal agencies preparing for a possible disruption beginning at midnight Friday.

The government last shut down for more than two weeks in 2013, when Republicans sought to force a repeal of Obamacare health care legislation.

In Nevada, a shutdown would hit federal civilian employees and government contractors hardest.

There were 10,800 federal civilian employees, not including those in the U.S. Postal Service, working in Nevada in 2016, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

More than 4,600 of them worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs Nevada in 2016, according to the office.

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said a government shutdown poses no risks to services for veterans because budgets are funded a year ahead of time to avoid possible spending disruptions.

The largest number of federal civilian employees, those who don’t work for the armed services or the VA, in Nevada is under the Interior Department, with 1,781, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

In past government shutdowns, federal employees who were furloughed later received paychecks as if they had worked during the shutdown. But that was not the case for some contract workers, who received no pay for the down time, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The Postal Service, which operates on a fee basis, would continue to provide services, and Social Security and Medicare would still send checks to those receiving benefits.

Airport security provided by federal agents, considered an essential service, would also continue as usual, as would other law enforcement, public safety and homeland security services.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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