WASHINGTON ― There are no signs of a deal to end the partial government shutdown, but one thing is changing on Capitol Hill: the House majority.
On Thursday, Democrats will officially take over the House, and their first order of business ― after they’ve elected their speaker ― will be passing legislation extending funding to all the shuttered agencies, pressuring Senate Republicans and President Donald Trump to let go of the border wall fight and end the shutdown.
House Democrats plan to pass a combined six spending bills funding all the closed government agencies through September, with a separate stopgap bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security through February.
“It is time to end this unnecessary shutdown and put the federal government fully back to work serving the American people,” incoming Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement.
But House passage of the bill is unlikely to change much. Even though the Senate unanimously passed a clean continuing resolution at the end of December ― a stopgap spending bill extending operations without border wall money ― Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has vowed not to bring up another bill in this new Congress until there’s agreement from Trump.
House Democrats will be able to argue that McConnell and Trump are standing in the way of paychecks for an estimated 800,000 federal workers ― more than half of whom are simply working without pay. Typically, Congress approves back pay for those furloughed workers, but government contractors will likely get nothing.
As Washington ― and the rest of the United States ― comes back from its holiday break, pressure to end the shutdown may grow. Americans already blame Trump more for the shutdown than Democrats, by a margin of 47 percent to 33 percent. And if the shutdown stretches on so long that Americans start feeling the effects ― like delayed tax refunds because of a shuttered IRS, or missed flights because of TSA workers striking ― Trump and other Republicans may start getting desperate.
Trump said Wednesday that it could be a “long time” before the closed government agencies are reopened.
The president vows to keep the shutdown going as long as Democrats don’t give him money for his border wall, but he’s shown no willingness to negotiate on the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals immigration program, and Democrats have shown little willingness to give Trump even one dollar.
The distance between the two sides seems to be growing, as Trump reneged on a deal Vice President Mike Pence offered last week that would have delivered $2.5 billion for the wall, instead of the $5.6 billion Trump wants. Trump said Wednesday that he wouldn’t accept just $2.5 billion.
Trump met with Democratic leaders on Wednesday at the White House, but there was once again no real movement.
Instead of cutting a hasty deal, Democrats seem more satisfied to demonstrate that it’s Trump and Republicans standing in the way of a funded government.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who represents many federal employees in northern Virginia, said he was confident Democrats could wait the president out.
“I don’t know what leverage he has that he can exercise,” Connolly told HuffPost on Wednesday. “They started off with $5.5 billion or else. And we’re now down to anything with a 2.”
In the spending bills Democrats plan to pass on Thursday, the February date for DHS funding would serve to continue negotiations. Some Republicans in the House may end up voting for the bill, and there’s a possibility that if the shutdown drags on for long enough, Senate Republicans could pass the bill and both chambers could override Trump’s veto.
Democrats initially planned to make their first legislation in the majority a package of anti-corruption, campaign finance and democracy reform bills. That will now be the second item on their agenda, after funding the government, though they are still calling the anti-corruption package “H.R. 1” and plan to pass that bill later on Thursday.