Few immediate effects from government shutdown in Helena

Posted at 9:54 PM, Dec 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-24 16:21:35-05

(HELENA) There aren’t yet many visible effects of the partial federal government shutdown in the Helena area.

Funding expired Saturday for nine federal departments, including the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Homeland Security. The Senate adjourned without reaching an agreement with President Donald Trump on a spending deal to end the shutdown. National news outlets report the impasse, which centers on billions of dollars in proposed funding for increased border security, is unlikely to be resolved before next week.

Many federal offices around the area are already closed for the weekend, so the effects of the shutdown will be more obvious if it continues past Christmas.

Some agencies are still in operation. The Helena Regional Airport is operating as normal, because Transportation Security Administration screeners and air traffic controllers are considered essential employees. The Department of Veterans Affairs was already fully funded through a separate bill, so the Montana VA’s medical center at Fort Harrison wasn’t affected.

The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have announced they plan to keep some recreation areas open to the public, but mostly without services. Most employees from those agencies will be temporarily furloughed, except for law enforcement and other positions needed to protect life and property.

Members of Montana’s congressional delegation have all criticized the shutdown.

Republican Sen. Steve Daines called on the Senate to take the “nuclear option”: abolishing the legislative filibuster so a proposed funding bill with $5 billion in funding for a border wall can pass the Senate with a simple majority instead of a 60-vote supermajority. His suggestion drew praise from President Trump.

“The American people deserve a government that is open and funded, and a border that is secure,” Daines said on Twitter.

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester argued there has already been substantial progress on immigration security. He said the president will need to take the lead in reaching an agreement.

“Republicans and Democrats in the Senate already agreed to a plan to secure our borders and keep the government open,” Tester said in a statement. “It is time for President Trump to work with Republicans and Democrats and stop treating American taxpayers like an ATM.”

On Thursday, Rep. Greg Gianforte spoke on the House floor, saying the shutdown was unnecessary and calling for lawmakers to take stronger action on both the border and on public lands issues.

“We could just kick the can here – on government funding, on our public lands and on border security,” he said. “All because Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are folding their arms, shaking their heads no, and refusing to secure our border.”