As the clock struck midnight this morning, the partial government shutdown broke the record for the longest U.S. shutdown on record. 

It's nothing to be proud of, and it seems highly unlikely it will end anytime soon. In fact, the Trump administration is reportedly planning for a shutdown that would least at least through the end of February--a timeline that timeline could utterly devastate the economy.

But at the same time, the Trump administration is acting to make it less painful, and to alleviate political pressure to end it.

I've reported this week on some of the more "legally aggressive" ideas (summary at the bottom of this article). No matter how you feel about the underlying political fight, it's good news whenever ordinary Americans hurt less.

But, there were a lot more developments in the last 24 hours that you should be aware of, especially if you're a business owner or leader. It's hard to keep up, and many of these float by without anyone really noticing. So, here's a summary.

1. Thanks to a mortgage lobbyist, 400 IRS workers have jobs again.

More than 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed or ordered to work without pay for now. But thanks to a lobbyist for the mortgage industry, 400 IRS clerks are back on the job -- and remarkably, getting their $13 to $18 an hour paychecks even while arguably more "essential" employees work for free.

"I said, 'Look, this is starting to be a problem for the lending industry,'" Robert Broeksmit, chief executive of the Mortgage Bankers Association, told The Washington Post. "Could you make these guys essential? 

The clerks' job: verifying mortgage applicants' income. While these IRS employees were away, the mortgage banks were missing out on millions of dollars in fees.

"I'd like to take some credit," Broeksmit added, according to the Post. "Our direct request got quite rapid results."

2. The State of the Union will be a bully pulpit.

The State of the Union address is set for January 29, and the president's team is preparing with an assumption the shutdown will still be ongoing, according to reports. They hope to use the nearly 90 minutes of free, primetime coverage on television as an exercise in shaming the opposition.

The idea is "to have the president admonish lawmakers for a shutdown that at that point would be on its 39th day," the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The Journal cautioned that it's not sure if President Trump himself is aware of his aides' strategy.

3. It looks like federal employees will eventually get paid. (Eventually.)

Friday was the first day that many federal workers missed their paychecks, and social media and news reports were full of images of pay stubs showing payments of $0.

Against that, there was some good news, however.

The White House signaled that Trump will sign a bill passed by Democrats in the House Friday (and the Republican-led Senate Thursday), which provides that federal workers will eventually get their pay--albeit in a lump sum, once the shutdown ends. 

4. It's getting more dangerous in federal prisons.

The union representing federal corrections officers says inmate assaults on officers are up since the shutdown, which they attribute to more prison guards calling in sick during the shutdown.

That means other guards have to work unpaid (for now) overtime, and administrative staff who have only minimal training as guards are forced to work as corrections officers.

At one West Virginia prison, the number of employees calling out sick rose from under 20 a day to 80, according to the Post. The article described a woman who normally works as an office secretary putting on a uniform for two shifts as a guard in a high security area of a prison.

"Inmates know about the shutdown; they know we aren't getting paid. They play on that stress," one correction officer told the Post.

5. Getting sued. A lot.

The union representing the air traffic controllers sued the administration Friday, saying they've been denied "hard-earned compensation without the requisite due process."

They're joined in separate lawsuits by employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of Justice, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Homeland Security. It's not clear what their prospects of victory might be.

6. Not paying the Coast Guard.

We knew this one was coming, but the payroll schedule is different for the U.S. Coast Guard than it is for civilian employees. Thus, Monday will be the first day that 41,000 members of the U.S. Coast Guard -- virtually the entire active duty fleet -- will miss a scheduled paycheck (technically a direct deposit).

As was widely reported, officials had advised Coast Guard members who would be missing paychecks to do things like "holding a garage sale, babysitting, dog-walking or [working] as a 'mystery shopper,' to make up for their missing paychecks.

It's not clear from news reports whether these Coast Guard members are included in the proposed law at number 3 above -- although if they're not, you'd hope it would be an easy and politically smart fix to add them to it.

7. Suspending civil cases in federal courts.

This one is harder to pin directly on either the administration or Congress, because the judiciary is a separate, coequal branch of government. But, the shutdown cuts off their operating budget, too, and the courts will run out of money on Jan. 18.

Currently, the plan is for the courts to use fees to keep the criminal justice system moving, but to suspend action in almost all civil cases.

8. Floating a new path to citizenship for H-1B visa holders.

This one came straight out of left field on Friday, but welcome to 2019. In a tweet, President Trump proposed "a potential path to citizenship" for H-1B holders. 

As one observer pointed out, this "would almost certainly require approval from Congress, and the White House has made no such suggestion in its latest border security funding proposal, or any other public offer."

The tweet was big news in India however, which reportedly is home to about 75 percent of H-1B visa holders.

9. Talking about an emergency.

We've been hearing about this idea all week, but there's no real progress: Trump has been floating the idea of declaring a national emergency and simply building a border wall with Mexico -- or part of one, anyway -- using defense appropriations that were originally intended for other purposes.

On Friday, he said he doesn't want to do it and called it the "easy way out." But he said that if Congress won't give him the $5.7 billion he wants for a border wall, "I will declare a national emergency. I have the absolute right to do it."

All of this comes in addition to some of the highly aggressive legal tactics the administration has made this week to curb the effects of the shutdown on ordinary Americans and alleviate political pressure.

Among them: 

  • overturning an established legal interpretation, and decreeing that the IRS can process tax refunds during a shutdown. This could easily amount to $100 billion in February.
  • changing how the way the SNAP program (food stamps) run, so as to squeeze in another month of benefits. That's close to another $5 billion.
  • changing the deadline for a program to help farmers who are being hurt by Trump's trade war with China.

No matter how you feel about the political fight behind the shutdown, it's good to see that some folks in government have been working overtime (probably unpaid) to figure out solutions like these.

And if things continue as they've been going, it looks like they'll have a lot more opportunities to figure out more solutions, too.

Published on: Jan 12, 2019
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.