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U.S. government shutdown looms

December 18, 2018

By Signal Group

As 2018 and the 115th Congress come to an end, the budgetary battles between President Trump and Congress have reached a stalemate. At the heart of the clash is funding for a border wall. While Democrats have agreed to appropriate $1.6 billion in border-security spending, President Trump has indicated that he will veto any budget that does not include $5 billion for construction of a wall.

President Trump has openly indicated that he will take full responsibility for a government shutdown if there is no funding for the wall. If an agreement is not reached, the government will shut down at midnight on Friday, Dec. 21. A one- or two-week stopgap spending measure could avert a shutdown if an agreement is not reached before Friday, but reports indicate that President Trump may not support such a measure.

Some Washington observers say that a government shutdown may not happen, but even if it does not occur, the uncertainty is burdensome, as agencies must make plans to furlough certain employees as a potential shutdown nears.

There are twelve appropriations bills that must be passed by both chambers and signed into law annually in order to properly fund the government. Five of the twelve have already been signed into law, and those five bills fund roughly 75 percent of the government (in terms of expected spending). Therefore, any shutdown that occurs will be a partial one.

The remaining seven bills are responsible for funding the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Treasury, Homeland Security, Interior, State, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development. Currently, these agencies and departments are being funded by a continuing resolution (CR) that was passed Dec. 6.

Democrats and some congressional Republicans have offered several proposals to President Trump in an attempt to avert a shutdown. Their suggestions include passing all remaining appropriations bills, funding all agencies except for Homeland Security (which would be funded by another CR) to buy more time in border-security negotiations, and passing another CR for all remaining agencies.

Congress is not scheduled to be in session after Dec. 21 and will not reconvene until Jan. 3, 2019. At that point, negotiations will be complicated by the House entering Democratic control, and President Trump’s goal to secure funding for the border wall will become impossible without significant crossover support.

The length of a potential shutdown is unclear. Since 1980, there have been nine government shutdowns. Most have only lasted for one or two days, but the longest two, in 1995–1996 and in 2013, lasted 27 and 16 days, respectively. Given the unpredictability of the federal government, a shutdown may last anywhere from a couple of days to well into the new year.

Many operations essential to travel will continue. The State Department will continue to issue passports and visas, and airports will still operate. The Department of Homeland Security has indicated that 90 percent of its employees are essential personnel and will keep working. These essential personnel include air-traffic controllers, Customs and Border Patrol agents, and Transportation Security Administration screeners. Amtrak also will continue to operate as an independent agency, although any nonessential maintenance and capital improvements will cease.

The national parks, thanks to legislation passed earlier this year, will remain open, albeit without certain nonessential security and maintenance personnel. Some facilities at these parks will be closed to the public, and many amenities, such as visitor’s centers, will not be operational. Websites and social media also will not be maintained.

Attractions, including the Smithsonian museums and other facilities, can continue operating on a temporary basis by tapping into “rainy day” funds. When these monies dry up, though, the museums may close or reduce their hours. Every facility, park, and museum is different and will have different parameters.

The impact of a partial shutdown on travel and tourism has the potential to be significant. During the 2013 shutdown, many companies that did business with national parks and other entities that rely on federal funding faced hotel cancellations and other related fees. The most negative impact may come from indirect effects on the economy: A partial shutdown will mean that countless federal employees will go without pay for the duration of the shutdown, with no guarantee of backpay. This may cause a reduction in demand for travel, as some of these employees might cancel travel plans in an attempt to save money.

Any shutdown will induce negative consequences. NTA members are encouraged to contact their representatives and senators and urge them to pass a budget, even if it requires overriding a presidential veto. Members should include estimated losses of revenue and emphasize the negative impacts on local economies. In the meantime, NTA will continue to monitor this situation and engage members of Congress to get a budget deal passed.

Signal Group is a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm retained by NTA to advise members about travel related issues and legislation.

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