Good morning! For hundreds of thousands of federal employees rounding out their first full week on furlough or else working with no paycheck in sight, this is not a happy Friday. For those paying attention to what’s happening in Washington, however, there was plenty to watch yesterday.
The good news: House Republicans, Senate Democrats and the Obama administration are talking. The bad news: No one seems to be sure where the conversation is heading.
Although the stock market responded with a big upward bounce, Stan Collender, a veteran budget watcher, isn’t especially optimistic. In an interview last night, Collender called it “unlikely” that there will be an agreement next week to reopen the government and put the odds of increasing the federal debt ceiling by the administration’s Oct. 17 deadline at only “50-50.”
To recap yesterday’s amply reported developments, House Republicans proposed a short-term increase in the debt ceiling that would carry the government through late next month in return for a White House commitment to negotiate a broader deficit reduction deal and tax code changes down the road. But the House offer does not include reopening the government, according to this New York Times account, which quotes House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s summary of Obama’s response. The president ‘”didn’t say yes, didn’t say no,”‘ according to Ryan, R-Wis.
Senate Republicans, who get their face time with Obama this morning, appear to be coalescing around a plan by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that would reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling in return for repealing or delaying a tax on medical devices that helps fund the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), CQ reports.
The bottom line: Compared to the state of play earlier this week, any negotiation represents progress. But there’s still a ways to go before feds go back to work.
In other news, the federal courts and their approximately 30,000 employees have about another week before going into shutdown mode.
Since the beginning of the fiscal year this month, the Third Branch has been managing to scrape by on fee revenue and leftover appropriations. That will suffice until Oct. 17 or so, according to an advisory posted yesterday by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. After that, assuming the congressional spending stalemate continues, chief judges in the district and circuit courts will have to decide which employees are essential and which aren’t.
As is true for most other agencies (the Defense Department now being an exception thanks to the Pay Our Military Act), essential staff would keep working, but won’t get paid until the shutdown ends. Non-essential workers would be furloughed without pay and services would be curtailed. The longer the impasse continues, “it’s certainly reasonable to expect that the strain will get more severe,” said Charles Hall, a spokesman for the courts office.
Any major developments we’ve missed, particularly in regard to agency news? Let us know with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.