In the summer of 2013, when the right had high hopes that congressional Republicans would shut down the federal government, Heritage Foundation was reluctant to use the actual word “shutdown.” Instead, it preferred the phrase “a temporary slowdown in non-essential federal government operations.”
That proved to be a little clunky. When GOP lawmakers actually shut down the government, Fox News went with the more streamlined “slimdown” label.
With just one day remaining before the Department of Homeland Security runs out of funds, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has an entirely different argument in mind: a shutdown isn’t really a shutdown. A Democratic source flagged this exchange between the Republican senator and radio host Vicki McKenna yesterday:
MCKENNA: Here’s another proposal. Because the thing is, it seems like we always walk up to the eleventh hour. And then we say, ‘Okay, well now we’re stuck. I agree.’ If on Friday, even though it won’t – there will be no such thing as a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.JOHNSON: And I’ve pointed that out.MCKENNA: Yes, you have. In fact, you were the first one to point that out.JOHNSON: I paid a price for pointing it out.
The Wisconsin lawmaker was probably referring to comments he made in mid-January, when Johnson said he wasn’t concerned about the DHS deadline. “Even in the last government shut down only 13.6% of DHS employees were furloughed,” the senator said last month. “So the national security aspects, the aspects of the department that keeps America safe, are continuing to function no matter what happens in this very dysfunctional place.”
Johnson, incidentally, was recently made the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. One assumes his indifference to whether DHS employees start missing paychecks will not go over well among the agency’s massive workforce.
The basic idea here is that a shutdown isn’t really a shutdown, so the public shouldn’t be too concerned. That’s likely to be a convenient excuse for failure if GOP lawmakers don’t approve a funding bill by tomorrow at midnight, but it’s not an especially compelling argument.
If Johnson’s point is that the entirety of the Department of Homeland Security’s operations will not simply collapse at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow night, that’s true. If Johnson’s point is that missing the DHS funding deadline would be inconsequential, that’s untrue.
In practical terms, nearly 15% of Homeland Security would be furloughed in the event of a shutdown, meaning they would be prohibited from coming to work and they would stop receiving compensation. The remaining 85% of the DHS workforce is considered “essential” and must continue to do their duties if there’s a shutdown, but – and this is key – they would not be paid for their work.
Just as important, a Homeland Security shutdown would have a ripple effect on local governments – including first responders in Johnson’s home state of Wisconsin.
As for developments on Capitol Hill, there’s still a great deal of uncertainty, despite the fact that the deadline is just 32 hours away. The plan at this point is for the Republican-led Senate to move forward with a “clean” funding bill, which will probably pass tomorrow. At that point, the Republican-led House would do … something. No one seems to know what that might be.
Watch this space.