Government

Government shutdown not something to be proud of, Ernst says

Sen. Joni Ernst speaks with members of the press following a town hall meeting at Sinclair Hall on the Coe College Campus in Cedar Rapids on Friday, March 17, 2017. The stop was part of the senator’s 99-county tour of town halls, and she heard feedback from constituents about ongoing policy issues in the state and in Washington. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Sen. Joni Ernst speaks with members of the press following a town hall meeting at Sinclair Hall on the Coe College Campus in Cedar Rapids on Friday, March 17, 2017. The stop was part of the senator’s 99-county tour of town halls, and she heard feedback from constituents about ongoing policy issues in the state and in Washington. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Sen. Joni Ernst often sides with President Donald Trump, but the Iowa Republican is not going along with him on the potential shutdown of the federal government at the end of next week.

“I would not be proud to shut down the government,” Ernst said Thursday. “I think we all in Congress strive not to shut down the government. I think that would be very detrimental to our federal agencies and the various activities that they support.”

In a meeting with Democratic congressional leaders earlier this week, Trump said he would be proud to shut down the federal government if he does not get funding for a wall at the United States’ border with Mexico. “Build the wall” was a signature issue — and one of Trump’s best applause lines — throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. He promised voters Mexico would pay for the wall.

Like many congressional Republicans, Ernst has been less enthusiastic about building the wall. She shares the president’s concern about border security despite her reluctance to shut down the federal government if Congress does not approve the $5 billion Trump is demanding in 2019. Democrats have indicated they are willing to spend $1.3 billion on border security such as fencing.

“We do need to secure the border,” Ernst said during a conference call with reporters. “I do support the president in those efforts. We need to make sure that we’re working and finding a way ahead to ensure that we’re protecting homeland and securing the border.”

Ernst hasn’t given up on meeting the Dec. 21 deadline Congress faces for funding the government.

“I’m always an optimist, and I hope we can find a way forward, working between the House and the Senate to find a plan that will work for Republicans and Democrats,” she said. “It’s going to take us a bit of time here, but we’re going to push through and, hopefully, we do not see a government shutdown.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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What would happen in a shutdown?

The impact of any shutdown would be limited because about 75 percent of the federal government’s discretionary budget has been funded through September. That includes major agencies like the Pentagon and the Health and Human Services Department.

And there would be no impact on the payment of Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare benefits because those programs fall under “mandatory” spending that is paid out without annual congressional approval. Mandatory spending comprises about 70 percent of federal spending.

Still, the agencies that remain to be funded could be hit hard.

The Interior, Agriculture, Justice, Commerce, Transportation and State departments and NASA could be forced to send thousands of workers home without pay until an agreement is reached. This could lead to major disruptions and delays in service, though the precise implications will not be clear until each agency determines how it will operate after funding lapses Dec. 21.

Within the Homeland Security Department, most employees are exempt from a shutdown and would report to their jobs regardless, including workers at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Border Patrol, Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. These workers could go unpaid if the shutdown dragged on, but they would eventually get back pay once it was over.

— The Washington Post

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