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Shutdown Watch-Day 16: Could agencies reopen soon?

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Good morning! For federal employees, it might be hard to imagine an upside to a wild day on Capitol Hill that began with House Republicans singing “Amazing Grace” and ended with warnings from Fitch credit rating agency that it was looking closely at downgrading the United States’ creditworthiness.

But yesterday’s chaos could also presage an end to the partial government shutdown that began Oct. 1. The reason is simple: Any deal to reopen agencies is tied to raising the nation’s debt ceiling and lawmakers could make real headway on the latter front today.

After the House GOP leadership was unable to corral enough votes to pass its own bill by last night, the action has shifted back to the Senate where lawmakers have resumed work on a bipartisan deal that would include a continuing resolution running until mid-January (anyone remember when Congress used to pass full-year appropriations bills?) and raise the debt ceiling until February.  The full Senate could vote as early as today on the package, according to The New York Times. Expectations are that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, will have to follow suit and allow a vote.

“It’s all over; we’ll take the Senate deal,” an anonymous House aide told National Review, a conservative news outlet. Under a best-case scenario, that probably means feds could be back on the job as early as Friday.

Of course, given the events of the last few days, FedLine has to caution that lawmakers could shred this script as well.

The heat is on, however, as the Obama administration continues to warn that the nation will exhaust its last dribs of borrowing authority by tomorrow. If that happens, the federal government will soon be unable to pay all of its bills, among which are salaries and other compensation for 2.1 million federal employees. What happens then is unclear; while officials with the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management held a conference call with federal labor unions and other employee groups yesterday, they punted the question to the Treasury Department, participants said.

“I think we’re in uncharted territory,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., told reporters in a separate conference call when asked how federal employees could be affected by a debt ceiling breach.  “We still have to get the federal workforce back [to work] and paid.” Also unclear is whether all contractors will be fully paid, he added.

In other news, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell sees at least one possible silver lining to the shutdown: “The increased awareness of the American people to the importance of the work you do and the value that all Americans receive from their investment in you,” Jewell told Interior employees in a message posted online by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

Any major developments we’ve missed, particularly in regard to agency news? Let us know with an email to shutdownstories@federaltimes.com.

 

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