Maybe Congress shouldn’t have tried to ease the pain of a government shutdown.
One reason for the extended closure of nine Cabinet departments and other agencies is the legislative version of no good deed going unpunished: congressional leaders took steps that mitigated much of the fallout from this partial shutdown.
About 75 percent of the funding for federal agencies actually got approved in September, on time, including such critical entities as the Pentagon, Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration. And then Congress moved the deadline for this year’s funding for the remaining agencies till four days before Christmas.
This meant that, once the shutdown started, the most important services provided by the federal government — soldiers’ salaries, veteran benefits, Social Security checks — went on, business as usual.
And the services that closed — federal museums, services at national parks, delayed tax refunds — have slowly shuttered over the holiday season, when the public was not paying much attention, and will continue over the next month.
This initially softened the blow but took away the pressure to reach a deal, and without any real pressure, today’s Congress is an institution that will simply not respond.
If nothing breaks by next weekend, Saturday would mark the 22nd day of the shutdown, the longest federal shutdown ever.
That’s a dubious record in a political era filled with dubious records of dysfunction, but there is, finally, a point on the horizon that might force some action.
About 800,000 federal workers who have either been furloughed or work without guaranteed pay are coming up against a big deadline.
“Look, I want to make sure government is open and people get paid. The last pay period they got paid, the next one is coming forward, where they won’t,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters Friday.
Over a rolling period in mid-January, most of those federal workers will go without their first paycheck, a breach that will create hundreds of thousands of angry constituents all across the nation.