The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

With a government shutdown possibly averted for now, feds and taxpayers head toward the next cliff

Now that Congress, which uses brinksmanship as an operating principle, seems ready to keep the government running, taxpayers and federal employees can look forward to the next cliff.

The Senate was expected to approve a temporary funding measure, which would allow services to continue. If the House follows, a partial government shutdown, closing many public facilities and sending workers home on Thursday, would be averted. But the legislation runs only until December, meaning staffers and citizens can look forward to more uncertainty just before the holidays.

“God help us all come Dec. 11,” said Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the House government operations subcommittee.

Is this any way to run a government?

[House Speaker John Boehner to resign at end of October]

Speaker John Boehner knows it is not. He announced his resignation from his leadership post and his Ohio congressional seat rather than continuing a fight with members of his own Republican caucus who favor confrontation over compromise. While his sacrificial resignation could allow the government to remain open for now, it also could mean greater danger for federal employees and the services they provide taxpayers in the long run.

Legislatively, Boehner was no friend to feds. He made that clear in August 2010, when he said “taxpayers are subsidizing the fattened salaries and pensions of federal bureaucrats who are out there right now making it harder to create private sector jobs.” Yet, while he is as conservative as his right-wing critics, he also had a pragmatic streak that those critics don’t like.

He knew the 16-day shutdown two years ago, designed to thwart the Affordable Care Act, was a mistake.

Inside the infighting at the Capitol (Video: Julie Percha/The Washington Post)

[Republican hard-liners are ‘false prophets,’ Boehner says]

“This plan never had a chance,” he told CBS on Sunday, criticizing Republicans who “whip people into a frenzy believing they can accomplish things that they know, they know are never going to happen.”

Not too long ago, it appeared their desire to oust Boehner was not going to happen. But he now plans to leave at the end of October. To some extent, the next speaker will owe that seat to the faction that unseated Boehner.

“I think the possibility just went up significantly that we are going to have a donnybrook in December,” Connolly said. The Republican right wing “got a big trophy” with Boehner’s resignation and are in “a pretty powerful mode” for demanding concessions and taking hostages.

“None of that is good news” for citizens and federal employees, Connolly added.

[Kevin McCarthy formally announces bid for House speaker]

If Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), now the number 2 in the House, becomes speaker, he could have even more trouble corralling House Republicans than Boehner did. McCarthy has a reputation for being nice, but not tough. But he has been tough on federal employee issues. His congressional voting record for 2014 earned him a score of zero from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). He fared a little better with the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), agreeing with its legislative positions 20 percent of the time.

Meanwhile, Gregory J. Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, hopes some good will come from the Republican turmoil.

“Perhaps now, in the closing weeks of your Speakership, you are free” to govern for the good of the American people, Junemann said in a letter to Boehner last week, optimistically adding: “Your sacrifice ….brings the opportunity for sanity to prevail for at least the Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16) spending bills, and for good governance to return to Washington.”

Junemann wants Boehner to advance legislation “that overturns the Budget Control Act of 2011 to eliminate the catastrophic threat of sequester, a bill that funds the government for the entirety of FY16 with appropriate increases to both the domestic and military budget caps, and a bill that increases the debt ceiling for a period carrying the country forward beyond the 2016 election.”

Perhaps Congress will engage in a spurt of meaningful legislation, but a full fiscal year budget bill is not likely to be in the mix. Approving a short-term funding measure passes for success in Congress these days, and that means another threat of a shutdown is just a couple of months away.

“Federal employees are taken to the brink,” said NTEU President Tony Reardon. “It happened in 2013. It’s happening now… If Dec. 11 becomes the new date they’re going to be taken to the brink again…I believe this really destroys our country’s confidence in our government.”

Along with that goes the confidence of federal employees in their employer.

Chris Ziegler, an Internal Revenue Service information technology specialist in St. Louis, is the father of three whose his wife has had medical problems. The possibility of a shutdown, now or later, is scary.

He joined the government expecting lower pay than the private sector, because he thought it was more stable. Instead of more stability, he got more shutdown stress.

Now, he said, “it’s a nightmare.”

What it looked like the last time the government shut down

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 07: Clouds fill the sky in front of the U.S. Capitol on October 7, 2013 in Washington, DC. Democrats and Republicans are still at a stalemate on funding for the federal government as the shut down goes into the seventh day. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)