March 2018 spending bill

The bipartisan nature of the proposed $1.3 trillion March 2018 spending bill make a shutdown less likely.  After its release the President tweeted fairly positively on the issue.

However, on March 23 2018, the day of the deadline to avert a government shutdown, President Trump tweeted a veto threat. At 9 am, this tweet made a government shutdown seem possible, due to immigration concern.

This was a known risk throughout this whole process. The timing of this tweet is surprising though.

March 22 2018

This tweet followed the House passing the bill with 256 in favor of the bill and 167 against and debate ending on the spending bill in the Senate.

Due to the “unanimous consent” rule, all 100 US senators must agree to bring a vote without delay. Any single Senator may hold up the bill. But by ending debate, the bill can no longer be filibustered.

With just hours until the March 2018 government shutdown, Senator Rand Paul is indicating his opposition.


Senator Paul is tweeting details of the 2,200+ page bill as he reads through it. He noted just printing the bill took several hours.

These tweets are a great reference for the contents of the spending bill.  Or read our comments on the March 2018 spending bill.

March 21 2018 update

*Update – a 2,232-page long term spending bill was unveiled late Wednesday. This $1.3 trillion spending package predictably did not resolve many immigration issues.

The bill did not provide certainty for DACA recipients not a fully funded border wall for President Trump. The President tweeted on the issue.

What’s included in the proposed March 2018 spending bill?

  • The bill increases spending greatly again (similar to the February bill)
  • $128 billion additional funding for domestic programs and increases defense budgets by $160 billion.
  • $1.6 billion for the border wall
  • Funds an additional 328 additional Border Protection agents
  • Makes needed tweeks to the GOP tax bill
  • A potentially controversial provision called the “CLOUD Act” which would allow law enforcement agencies to get data directly from Facebook and other tech companies without needing a warrant
  • Provides $3.2 billion to address the opioid epidemic
  • Strengthens current gun background check laws
  • CDC can study gun violence, but not advocate.
  • Increases National Institute of Health (NIH) funding by $3 billion after a long period of budget uncertainty
  • Provides $446 million towards federal grants and Amtrak that could potentially go towards a streamlined Gateway infrastructure project. This is a proposed commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River, connecting New York and New Jersey.
  • Fully funds Planned Parenthood

What’s not in the March 2018 spending bill?

  • There is no “Obamacare stabilization” funding
  • There is a lot missing from the $25 billion requested for the border wall.
  • The Gateway project is estimated to cost $900 million.
  • A long term solution for DACA recipients
  • VA reforms
  • No reciprocity for those with concealed carry licenses, in light of the “fix NICs” provision.

Specifics from Senator Rand Paul

  • no funds will be spent to prevent any state’s medical marijuana initiatives.
  • no funds in this act will be used to support or justify torture.
  • $6 billion National Science Foundation.
  • $12m for Scholarships for Lebanon
  • $20m for Middle East Partnership Initiative Scholarship Program
  • $12m in military funding for Vietnam
  • $3.5m in nutrition assistance to Laos
  • $15m in Developmental assistance to China
  • $10m for Women LEOs in Afghanistan
  • $1m for the World Meteorological Organization
  • $218m for Promoting Democracy Development in Europe (yep..the birthplace of democracy needs promoting)
  • $25m for International Religious Freedom
  • $10m for disadvantaged Egyptian Students
  • $1.371bn for Contributions to International Organizations
  • $51m to promote International Family Planning and Reproductive Health
  • $7m promoting International Conservation
  • $10m for UN Environmental Programs
  • $5m for Vietnam Education Foundation Grants
  • $2.579m for Commission on Security and Co-operation in Europe
  • $15m to USAID for promoting international higher education between universities
  • $2.696bn for International Disaster Assistance
  • $1m for the Cultural Antiquities Task Force
  • $6.25m for the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation
  • $20m for Countering Foreign State Propaganda
  • $12m for Countering State Disinformation and Pressure
  • $961 million to destroy our chemical weapons.

What’s next?

Embed from Getty Images

The odds of a government shutdown were volatile until the President’s 1pm press conference. Rand Paul single handedly shutdown the government for nearly 9 hours in February due to spending concerns. And the House Freedom Caucus was against the bill. T

he odds of a shutdown fluctuated between 3 and 30 percent of a shutdown.

The upcoming midterm elections will provide a battleground for more controversial policy priorities to be debated.  So only core issues seemed to have been funded.

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What are the odds of a government shutdown?

The odds of a government shutdown depend on a few factors.  Currently, the odds of a shutdown seem to be as high as ever but still anything is possible. The deadline is rapidly approaching.  The February 2019 government shutdown deadline is 11:59pm on February 15 2019.  Most Federal employees and agencies will start being affected on the following Tuesday, after the weekend and Monday federal holiday.

A major factor is the presence of the filibuster rule. A filibuster basically is a way for any senator to “talk a bill to death” unless 60 senators vote in favor of the bill.  So, a vote for a continuing resolution or a longer-term funding bill would require 60 ayes.

Historically this rule, which was borrowed from ancient Romans, was a near certainty to continue as part of the US Senate tradition.

Beautiful image of the ruins of Rome's Colosseum
Rome’s Colosseum, Photo by Paolo Costa Baldi The odds of a government shutdown are greatly affected by the Roman invention of a filibuster

But President Trump and others have called for an end to the filibuster. Averting a government shutdown may be the high-stakes issue that causes the camel’s back to break.

This threat greatly reduces the risk of a longer-term government shutdown.  While the filibuster rule is in effect the number of senators in the majority party is a large factor.  With 53 Republican senators, there needs to be at least 7 Democrats or independents in favor of the law.

The political climate and topical issues are another major factor.  The three recent shutdowns in December 2018 through late January, February 2018 and January 2018 were partially due to immigration issues being a key negotiation point.  It appears that Democrats have since backed off of DACA recipients as a key issue but have steadfastly been against a border wall.

Gun control is another lingering issue. But there is not broad enough support or political will for this to be a reason for shutting down the government.

Shutting down the government is a costly and disruptive activity.

But funding the government with politically poisonous attachments could end some legislators’ careers. The minority party hasn’t rallied around any rationale for a shutdown just yet. So the odds appear low.

Gambling market

There are some gambling markets that bet on the odds of a government shutdown. is one.  The current odds there are around 20 percent.

Graph of the odds of a government shutdown
The odds of a government shutdown are hovering between 20-30 percent as of the Wednesday before the shutdown deadline.

I’d peg this as being a bit high today, but might be right tomorrow. With the March 2018 government shutdown deadline so soon, the odds will change rapidly.

Some more filibuster history

The longest filibuster in US senate history was by Strom Thurmond.  He spoke for over 24 hours against the Civil Rights Act of 1957

The second longest was by Alfonse D’Amato in 1986 during which he read the Washington D.C. phone book.  This filibuster lasted nearly 24 hours as well.

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FAQs for a Federal Government shutdown

What happens during government shutdown?

A lot of people don’t really understand what happens during a government shutdown. The answer is complicated. But simply put, what happens during a government shutdown is that many federal functions stop (such as national parks). But some will continue because they are necessary (including those keeping the airports operating). And a third class of government services will continue operating because their funding is separate from general government funding (such as USPS)

A shutdown starts because funds are not available due to lack of legislation (appropriations law or continuing resolution). Since there are no funds, the shutdown will begin.  In technical terms a furlough is necessary. A furlough is defined as “placing of an employee in a temporary nonduty, nonpay status because of lack of work or funds, or other nondisciplinary reasons.”

CBO infographic showing federal government revenue and expenditure
The U.S. Government has 3.9 trillion of annual spending. What happens during a government shutdown? A lot of this spending stops!

Some functions are determined necessary so will continue. This is because of a law called the Antideficiency Act. Federal agencies are only able to do even the most critical activities because of this law.

Based on current guidance (advice to federal agencies), federal employees are informed as far in advance as possible whether they will be subject to a furlough. Otherwise, after the lapse in funding and shutdown, an employee would show up for work and told whether they are “excepted” or “non-excepted”.

Employees with “non-excepted” positions will be told they can’t work until a law appropriates, or funds, the government.

“Excepted” jobs are supposedly those that involve protection of life or property, but agencies can include anything else in that category that they deem necessary to preserve. These excepted employees will continue working but won’t be paid until a subsequent law funds it. But these people suffer further losses of benefits; Employees with this statuscannot use sick leave, annual leave, comp time, bereavement leave or make use of any other form of paid leave.

Frequently Asked Questions About What Happens During A Government Shutdown

We try to answer common questions for the general public, federal employees and federal contractors here. If you have any other questions about what happens during a government shutdown, please contact us as

Is there mail service during a shutdown?

If the government shuts down there will still generally still be mail service.  In the past, the mail service keeps running because like the Federal Reserve, USPS is exempt. The post office isn’t funded by Government appropropriate but rather is a self supporting entity.

So those stamps you paid for last year will keep the mail service running during any shutdown.  It simply doesn’t apply to them.

What Happens to Astronauts During a Government Shutdown?

Many major activities across government are scheduled with the potential government shutdowns in mind, and NASA is no exceptions. Launches are often scheduled to not occur when there is a risk of a lapse of funding.

As mentioned above, only employees deemed necessary to protect life or property would continue working. Based on NASA’s shutdown plan for 2015, this is about 10 percent of the staff. The facility staff of Goddard Space Flight Center reduced by about 90% from over 3,000 to just over 300. Johnson Space Center reduced by nearly 95% to fewer than 200 employees! But both centers had additional staff on call.

What happens to the military during a government shutdown?

Similar to other agencies, theDefense Department would be able to keep personnel that are deemed necessary to protect life or property. This generally means all active-duty personnel are deemed “excepted”, so would continue to work without pay and further loss of benefits.A shutdown also prevents death benefits being paid to the beneficiary of fallen soldiers.

But civilians in the DoD are furloughed. Based on their 2015 plan about 80% or 600,000 civilian Department of Defence employees would be furloughed in the event of a government shutdown.

Past shutdowns had separate legislation passed to bring back some furloughed civilian employees and to pay active duty soldiers.

There are added difficulties to enter into new contracts for defence contractors during a shutdown but previously funded contracts can continue.

Can Federal Employees volunteer to work during a government shutdown?

It’s probably true that a large proportion of the millions of hardworking federal employees would happily volunteer to work during a shutdown. They would likely get back-paid once legislation to fund the government is passed. But unless otherwise authorized by law, an agency cannot accept the voluntary services of an employee. (See 31 U.S.C. 1342.) Further, employees wouldn’t even be able to attend previously scheduled training.

Do federal employees get paid for their work before a shutdown, even though payroll personnel would be affected?

According to the 1980 bulletin “Shutdown of Agency Operations Upon Failure by the Congress to Enact Appropriations”, the payroll staff would be “excepted” for the necessary time to process the payments.  So hardworking civil servants will keep processing payments for past work done prior to the lapse in funding.

What will employees paycheck look like after coming back from a shutdown?

It depends. If congress authorized backpay of the shutdown period, the paycheck may include this back-pay. But that may not happen in the first paycheck. During a shutdown, health insurance benefits (FEHB) continue, but the employees portion will be withheld once the employee returns to pay. So there may be a larger than typical deduction due to the employees 25 percent of the health insurance premium.

Can federal employees get unemployment compensation during a shutdown?

In theory, Yes. It depends on the rules in the employee’s state.Some States require a waiting period (e.g. 1 week) before for the employee would be eligible payments.

We hope you have a better understanding of what happens during a government shutdown. Please comment or email us any questions!  Read some details of the upcoming potential March 2018 government shutdown.

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January 2018 government shutdown

January 2018 Government shutdown

After a 69 hour January 2018 government shutdown, the government was funded for 3 more weeks. This was the first government shutdown under President Trump and the first since the 2013 government shutdown under President Obama.  While the shutdown lasted 69 hours, due to the timing of the shutdown, it was minimally disruptive.  Most federal employees were only furloughed for one day. The government reopened before Tuesday January 23 2018. The continuing resolution (or CR) which provided the necessary funding, passed on January 22 2018.

January Continuing Resolution

The CR pushed the next government shutdown deadline to February 8, 2018. This two-week extension of funding is the shortest CR so far in President Trump’s tenure, and is the shortest continuing resolution since 2014. In 2014, H.J.Res.106 – Making further continuing appropriations for fiscal year 2014, and for other purposes, made an appropriation was made for only 3 days! 

HJ RES 106 was an appropriation for only 3 days.
The shortest CR in recent memory was only 3 days. Pictured is the text of the bill in its entirety

Partisan politics are particularly toxic during this session of congress.  The primarily issue for this shutdown was related to immigration (DACA). The state of the union speech on January 30th displayed the tensions.

Does the timing of a shutdown matter?

We’ve noted in the past the politically, the timing of a shutdown does matter a lot. No one wants a shutdown over Christmas or other important events.

A shutdown during the next shutdown window, February 8, would be more disruptive for the IRS than the January 2018 government shutdown. The IRS has started to allow individuals to submit their tax returns on January 29, 2018, so a government shutdown in the upcoming weeks could cause many taxpayers some pain.

While not all government employees are furloughed during a government shutdown, only about 50 percent of IRS employees are estimated to continue working through the next government shutdown. With fewer employees and money on the line, people may feel the pains of a February 8 shutdown more than the January one, with slower amendments and the possibility of more issues.

Read more FAQs about government shutdowns here.

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