WASHINGTON — For the second time this month, some 800,000 federal workers won’t be getting paychecks as President Donald Trump refuses to reopen the government without funding for a border wall.
The House and Senate considered separate short-term funding bills on Thursday that have largely split Democrats and Republicans — leaving Congress in gridlock. Meanwhile, a growing chorus of voices outside the beltway are calling for an end to the partial government shutdown that at 34 days and counting has extended longer than any previous lapse.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spearheaded a letter to President Trump and Congress from business groups across the nation urging them to end the impasse.
“The current shutdown — now the longest in American history — is causing significant and in some cases lasting damage to families, businesses, and the economy as a whole. The harm is well documented and continues to compound with each passing day,” the business groups wrote. “There are numerous paths forward that would allow for the government to be reopened that should be acceptable to all parties. Failing to seize on one of those compromises that can pass Congress and be signed into law is unacceptable.”
Among the groups signing the letter were the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, the Chamber of Commerce of Northwest Connecticut, and the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also pointed to the harm being done as affected agencies are no longer purchasing goods and services from small businesses across the country. In Connecticut, there are 443 small business contractors with affected agencies who have lost an estimated $4.8 million as a result of the shutdown, according to an analysis of data compiled by Paul Murphy, a senior data analyst for Bloomberg Government.
There have also been dozens of stories written across the country about federal workers struggling to survive without pay. Asked about federal workers turning to food banks during an appearance on CNBC on Thursday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he didn’t understand why they weren’t instead seeking low-interest loans to get by.
“I know they are, and I don’t really quite understand why,” he said.
The billionaire’s response was derided by Democrats including Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, posting comments on Twitter.
Murphy noted the starting salary for TSA workers makes it impossible to build a nest egg:
Of course you don’t, Mr. Secretary. FYI, TSA workers start out around $25,000/year. Try making that in Connecticut and see if you can save up more than a month’s salary.
(hint: you can’t) https://t.co/HIdUtyTQb3
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 24, 2019
Blumenthal simply chided him for berating “hardworking Americans” trying to make ends meet.
.@SecretaryRoss, it’s simple, federal workers need food banks because they’re not getting paid. These hardworking Americans are trying to make ends meet, don’t berate them for not having a rainy day fund. https://t.co/cIPlYaHJ3Q
— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) January 24, 2019
In a sign that the shutdown likely will stretch for at least another week, President Trump announced that he would defer to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and postpone his State of the Union Address until the shutdown is over. He had planned to deliver the speech next Tuesday.
The Senate on Thursday afternoon took the chamber’s first votes to reopen the government since the shutdown began 34 days earlier. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had otherwise declined to bring a temporary funding bill to a vote without clear support from President Trump.
He agreed, however, to allow votes on dueling proposals — a Republican bill that included $5.7 billion for the border wall requested by Trump and a Democrat alternative that did not include funding for the wall. Both bills fell short of the needed a 60-vote majority to advance.
The Republican version failed on a 50-47 vote, with two Republicans voting against it and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin in favor. The Democratic version that would keep the government open through February 8 (presumably to give lawmakers time to hash out a final budget) failed 52-44 with six Republicans supporting it.
Meanwhile, House Democrats on Thursday passed another short-term funding bill without border wall money that is not expected to advance in the Republican-controlled Senate. The House vote was 231-180. Reps. John Larson, Joe Courtney, Rosa DeLauro, and Jahana Hayes voted in favor. Jim Himes did not vote.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that House Democrats are working on a proposal — that could be announced Friday — to provide at least $5 billion in border security, but no new funding for the wall. No votes are expected in the House or Senate on Friday.