It looks like the federal government will remain partially shut down until 2019 and the 116th Congress. So what happens when Democrats take over the House on Jan 3 and when Rep. Nancy Pelosi takes the speaker’s gavel as expected? That remains to be seen.
Like the Pentagon, Veterans Affairs, and some other federal agencies, appropriations for the legislative branch were covered in the pair of “minibus” spending packages passed and signed in September. So members of Congress don’t have to worry about showing up to negotiate short-staffed, as with other funding lapses. The 116th Congress will be sworn in Wednesday, and a new speaker will be chosen by members of the House.
Then, members of the Democrat-run House and the Republican-led Senate will have to get to work on figuring out how to fund the remaining portions of the federal government that weren’t covered by those bills. They’ll have a week to deal with it before any federal paychecks are actually impacted. Thanks to a last-minute call made by the Trump administration, federal employees will still get their next paycheck and won’t miss one unless the partial shutdown lasts through January 11.
The next step could play out a few different ways. Republican leadership could play a game of “pin the deal on the donkey” and use the new House speaker as an out to strike an agreement that would have been politically untenable under Republican control – like settling for less money – all the while blaming it on Pelosi.
Then there’s the possibility that the partial shutdown continues until Democratic leadership decides, if ever, to go ahead and cut a deal for the $5 billion in requested wall funding. But that probably would require a very long shutdown first, which is where House Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said he sees things headed on Thursday.
There’s also the option that many fiscal hawks and small-government advocates wouldn’t be the least bit heartbroken to see: Keeping the government partially shut down, as Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, says, “till hell freezes over.”
This funding lapse has already defied the standard script for Washington brinksmanship theater by happening in the first place and by lasting longer than a few hours; what happens next is anybody’s guess.