WASHINGTON — Another round of political fights between the president and congressional Democrats has raised the possibility of a partial government shutdown in December, potentially disrupting Pentagon operations and military paychecks.
Lawmakers need to settle on a budget extension by Dec. 8 — the day a continuing resolution currently funding government operations expires — or risk a shutdown of all but essential operations.
Republican and Democratic leaders were scheduled to sit down Tuesday afternoon with President Donald Trump to discuss a path ahead, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., opted to skip the meeting after Trump took to Twitter to criticize them.
"Given that the president doesn’t see a deal between Democrats and the White House, we believe the best path forward is to continue negotiating with our Republican counterparts in Congress instead,” the Democratic leaders said in a statement.
That drew more criticism from White House officials. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president believes the leaders should “put aside their pettiness” and “stop the political grandstanding.”
In a separate statement, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., accused Democrats of “putting government operations, particularly resources for our men and women on the battlefield, at great risk by pulling these antics.”
The last lengthy partial government shutdown took place in 2013, connected to fights over the federal budget and the national debt ceiling. It lasted 16 days, temporarily furloughing thousands of government workers and disrupting a host of agency programs.
In the hours before that shutdown, lawmakers passed emergency legislation to ensure that members of the military and essential Defense Department employees would continue receiving paychecks while the fight dragged on.
But that did not include payouts to the families of deceased military personnel. Lawmakers had to scramble new legislation 10 days into the disruption to ensure those families received the death benefits, after embarrassing stories surfaced about the pain the political fight was causing those families.
If another shutdown takes place, members of Congress would again have to address those issues legislatively to prevent military pay and benefits issues from arising.
Military operations overseas were given funding priority during the 2013 shutdown, with office closings and program halts confined to bases far from the front lines. Daycare and commissary services were not deemed essential to department operations, forcing curtailed hours and closures at those facilities.
And civilian workers deemed nonessential spent the shutdown at home without pay. After a deal was reached to end the impasse, Congress awarded them back pay for the lost time.
Department of Veterans Affairs operations were impacted less by the 2013 shutdown — and would see fewer challenges in a 2017 shutdown too — because the department receives advanced appropriations in the annual budget cycle.
That means most veterans benefits checks would continue uninterrupted and VA medical centers would remain open. However, information hotlines and job training programs would be temporarily shuttered.
Pelosi and Schumer said they are “continuing to work in good faith, as we have been for the last month, with our Republican colleagues in Congress” to avoid another shutdown.