No end in sight for partial shutdown as new Congress convenes Thursday

A funding lapse for part of the federal government which started on December 22 shows no signs of ending in Washington, with President Donald Trump continuing to blame Democrats for not backing his plans for a wall along the Mexican border, as GOP leaders in Congress have no votes scheduled on the partial government shutdown, seemingly leaving the next step in this political battle to Democrats - who will take charge of the House when the 116th Congress convenes at 12 noon on January 3.

In a letter to House Democrats this weekend, Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi said the first order of business before the House on Thursday would be a plan that includes both rules changes for the House, and funding for federal agencies now under a shutdown.

"Our legislation reopens government services, ensures workers get the paychecks they’ve earned and restores certainty to the lives of the American people," Pelosi said.

But there was one clear difference with the President.

"The legislation includes no new funding for President Trump’s border wall," said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), who will be the new head of the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday afternoon.

Instead of going on a planned 16 day break at his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Florida, the President has been at the White House, jabbing at Democrats on Twitter, but making few public comments to reporters or television cameras about the shutdown battle.

"I am in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come on over and make a deal on Border Security," the President tweeted over the weekend, sending out a mix of messages tweaking Democrats about the shutdown, and venting his frustration with the Russia investigation.

There has been no legislative action at all in Congress on the shutdown since before Christmas - GOP leaders in the House and Senate did not keep those legislative bodies at work, as lawmakers and leaders alike went on their planned holiday vacations, or back home with family and friends.

For example on Sunday, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) - who will be the new Majority Whip of the Senate on Thursday - tweeted out a photo of himself on a pheasant hunt.

The Senate will return at 4 pm on Wednesday - just twenty hours before the new Congress convenes; no votes are on the schedule at this time about the shutdown, as the working assumption on Capitol Hill is that the 115th Congress will end without solving this funding dispute.

The House will also be back on Wednesday afternoon, but most of the work going on in the House right now is on the transition from Republican to Democratic Party control, as Nancy Pelosi gets ready to take the Speaker's gavel from Paul Ryan, who has been silent about the shutdown over the holiday break.

If no breakthrough occurs by noon on Thursday - when the 116th Congress convenes - then Democrats will push a funding plan through the House, and send that to the Senate, likely with no money for the President's border wall.

Because of rules on the filibuster, and budget laws which would require 60 votes for approval of any border wall funding, Republicans don't have enough votes to pass what the President wants done on immigration in the Senate.

But there also probably aren't enough votes to approve what Democrats will get through the House on Thursday.

The impact of the shutdown so far has been limited, but will ratchet up as the federal government goes back to work on Wednesday.

Most of the 800,000 federal workers hit by the partial shutdown were paid as scheduled at the end of December - though it took a late change by the Coast Guard for paychecks to go out - but those will be the last checks for those workers who have been furloughed, or who are still on the job as essential workers.

On Wednesday, all the of the Smithsonian Museums will close down - all of the Smithsonian facilities in Washington, D.C. have been kept open during the holiday break despite the funding lapse, drawing huge crowds of tourists in recent days.

But that will end on January 2.

For federal workers who are impacted by the shutdown, it's a time of deep uncertainty when it comes to their personal finances, as they wonder when their next paycheck will arrive.

At this point, the answer seems to be simple - not any time soon.

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