(CBS NEWS) - Tax refunds will not be affected by the partial government shutdown, a top Trump administration official claimed in a briefing with reporters Monday. However, for the time being, only 12 percent of the IRS workforce is on the job -- without pay -- and they are mainly focused on security and technology. The agency's shutdown plans have said it is not issuing refunds or even answering phone help lines during the shutdown.
The question of whether tax refunds will be issued on time has loomed larger the longer the shutdown lingers. Now in week three, the partial government shutdown still appears to have no end in sight, with Democrats and the White House far apart.
"Tax refunds will go out," Russell Vought, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, told a small group of reporters Monday, though he did not explain how the IRS would accomplish this without the vast majority of its paid staff. By the end of Nov. 2018, the IRS had processed over 154 million tax returns.
Vought, who is essentially running OMB with OMB head Mick Mulvaney taking on the role of White House chief of staff, said the administration is working to send out guidance on this.
The Trump administration is looking to find workarounds as key federal agencies operate without funding in the new year. Last week in a wide-ranging press conference in the White House Rose Garden, President Trump confirmed he told Democrats and Republicans in a meeting the shutdown could last months or even years if needed — but he hopes it won't. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of federal workers, from Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents at airports, to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) personnel are going without pay.
Vice President Mike Pence told reporters in the same briefing Monday he thought progress has been made in conversations with Democrats — but that doesn't necessarily mean progress in negotiations. Representatives for the White House and Democrats and Republicans from Capitol Hill met at the White House Saturday and Sunday.
"We think it was a productive session on both days," Pence told reporters. "I said so on Saturday, the president said so yesterday. That does not mean to imply that we made progress in negotiations, but I think we gained better understanding of the issues, the crisis on our southern border, and a better understanding of the priorities on both sides of the aisle."
The White House is asking for $5.7 billion for border wall and other border security-related funding. Pence said they're waiting on Democrats to negotiate, although Democrats have said they don't want to fund the president's border wall.
"The simple fact is, if we can sit down and agree that there is a crisis, then then plugging in the numbers into this process and reaching an agreement will not take very long," Pence said.
— CBS News' Paula Reid contributed to this report
First published on January 7, 2019
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