Senate clears Feb. 8 continuing resolution, sends to the House

The Senate cleared the first hurdle in preventing a partial government shutdown on Dec. 21.

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UPDATED at 10:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 19:

The Senate passed a seven-week continuing resolution with a voice vote late Wednesday night, clearing the first hurdle in preventing a partial government shutdown at the end of the week.

The CR, which would provide the remaining agencies without full-year 2019 appropriations with funding through Feb. 8, now goes to the House for a vote.

The House is expected to vote on the measure on Thursday.

Lawmakers are cautiously optimistic it will clear the final chamber, but members of the House Freedom Caucus made their opposition to the short-term deal known on Wednesday night.

The President must sign the continuing resolution by the end of the day on Dec. 21 to avoid a partial government shutdown.

The Senate-passed CR doesn’t include a pay raise for civilian employees, despite attempts by Senate Democrats to include the measure as a last-minute anomaly or amendment.

As the Senate plans to consider a continuing resolution later on Wednesday that would avoid a partial government shutdown at the end of the week, federal employees are still wondering whether they’ll get a raise in 2019.

The prospects, at least for now, are grim.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed the continuing resolution, which funds the remaining agencies that still lack a full-year 2019 budget, through Feb. 8.

The continuing resolution doesn’t include a proposed 1.9 percent pay raise for civilian employees in 2019, though a few Senate Democrats have said they’ll push for a budget anomaly in the CR that would adjust pay for civilian employees.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said Wednesday afternoon he’s planning to file an amendment to McConnell’s CR that would provide civilian employees with a 1.9 percent raise.

“If we can’t get it done as part of this short-term package, it should be the first order of business when we return,” Van Hollen said Wednesday.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) also said he wants to resolve questions and pass a federal pay raise now, because he said it’s unclear if Congress can retroactively adjust pay if lawmakers do pass a continuing resolution through Feb. 8 and revisit the issue early next year.

“The challenge is once you pass the magic date of January, what is the effect of existing law when Congress then authorizes a [pay raise] after the 1st of January and the president has held off putting the pay raise forward?” he said to reporters and leadership from the American Federation of Government Employees Wednesday afternoon. “It just adds uncertainty, and it depends on how Congress acts after that date. We know what we can do now if we pass a budget that includes it.”

Both Cardin and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said they were relatively confident that their respective chambers would pass a continuing resolution and avoid a partial government shutdown by 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 22.

“Some kind of way, we will avoid the shutdown,” Cummings said. “There is pressure coming from a number of places. The President, I can never predict what he’s going to do. But I think he gets it. You just cannot do this to people during the holiday season.”

McConnnell’s CR at this point doesn’t include any other riders, amendments or anomalies, making it easier to clear the Senate and likely the House.

But it’s unclear what other amendments or anomalies members will try to attach to the CR over the next two days.

The Senate already passed a 1.9 percent pay raise for civilian employees in 2019 earlier this year. The House, however, did not, sending a group of lawmakers from both chambers to settle the differences and work out a solution in the financial services and general government appropriations bill.

The final conference report for that bill was never made publicly available, but House Republicans announced back in October that they had struck an agreement on a 1.9 percent raise for civilian employees next year. A 1.9 percent raise would be in line with what most federal employees received in 2018.

President Donald Trump back in August announced his intention to freeze pay for civilian workers. If Congress can’t agree on a raise, the president’s planned freeze would move forward.

The President, of course, could change his mind. He must issue an executive order by the end of the year to finalize his decision on pay for civilian employees. This typically comes toward the end of December before the Christmas holiday.

Cardin said Wednesday it didn’t appear Trump would reverse course on his own terms and decide to give federal employees a raise for 2019.

This story will be updated.

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