Government shutdown over, tax refunds may still be affected

Published 3:00 am Saturday, January 26, 2019

Submitting to mounting pressure amid growing disruption, President Donald Trump agreed to a deal Friday to reopen the government for three weeks, backing down from his demand that Congress give him money for his border wall before federal agencies get back to work.

Standing alone in the Rose Garden, Trump said he would sign legislation funding shuttered agencies until Feb. 15 and try again to persuade lawmakers to finance his long-sought wall. The deal he reached with congressional leaders contains no new money for the wall but ends the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

First the Senate, then the House swiftly and unanimously approved the deal, sending the legislation to Trump for his signature.

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As many federal workers decided not to come back to work unpaid, as they were commanded to do by Trump, questions abounded about the impacts.

Jay Shirley, a certified public accountant in Troy, said the shutdown has left the soon upcoming tax refund process unclear.

“We’re still not able to do anything,” Shirley said. “We won’t know if it works or not until we start trying.”

Just because the IRS will be fully staffed again doesn’t mean the tax refund is going to run smoothly, he said.

“I would imagine there’s going to be a backlog of stuff,” Shirley said. “It already would take an hour or so to wait on hold to talk to somebody; I imagine there’s going to be a backlog now for this month of problems not resolved. We’re going to try to do business as usual. we always encourage people to get their documents into us as soon as they have everything ready. We should know by the end of next week whether the system’s working or not.”

USDA workers should also be back with the reopening, so the local Farm Service Agency should be back in business, at least until Feb. 15.

The reopening should also allow for USDA-issued home loans that had been put on hold after the agency had to shutter its doors.

Senators were talking with increased urgency after Thursday’s defeat of competing proposals from Trump and the Democrats. Bipartisan talks provided a glimmer of hope Friday that some agreement could be reached. But several senators said they didn’t know what to expect as they arrived to watch the president’s televised address from their lunchroom off the Senate floor.

The Senate first rejected a Republican plan Thursday reopening the government through September and giving Trump the $5.7 billion he’s demanded for building segments of that wall, a project that he’d long promised Mexico would finance. The 50-47 vote for the measure fell 10 shy of the 60 votes needed to succeed.

Minutes later, senators voted 52-44 for a Democratic alternative that sought to open padlocked agencies through Feb. 8 with no wall money. That was eight votes short. But it earned more support than Trump’s plan, even though Republicans control the chamber 53-47. It was aimed at giving bargainers time to seek an accord while getting paychecks to government workers who are either working without pay or being forced to stay home.

Contributing to the pressure on lawmakers to find a solution was the harsh reality confronting many of the federal workers, who on Friday faced a second two-week payday with no paychecks.

Throughout, the two sides issued mutually exclusive demands that have blocked negotiations from even starting: Trump had refused to reopen government until Congress gave him the wall money, and congressional Democrats had rejected bargaining until he reopened government.