Ordinarily, there's an understanding among policymakers that government shutdowns are to be avoided. They impose needless burdens on hundreds of thousands of workers; they undermine the economy; and they're emblematic of a level of political dysfunction that's deeply embarrassing.
With this in mind, when shutdowns occur, we tend to see officials taking steps to resolve the problem. Policymakers are quickly shuttled between meetings; proposals and counter-proposals change hands; and some sense of urgency hangs over the standoff.
The current shutdown is ... different. Efforts to resolve the problem are as haphazard as they are sporadic, and on Capitol Hill, in the waning days of Republican congressional dominance, no one seems to be doing any work at all.
The partial government shutdown stretched into its sixth day Thursday, but there was little sense of urgency on Capitol Hill to resolve the impasse as Congress reconvened for a pro-forma session that ended as quickly as it began. [...]The still-Republican controlled House was gaveled into session for less than two minutes as Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., yelled out in a futile attempt to make a motion, before being quickly shut down in an otherwise empty House chamber.The Senate likewise met for a brief pro-forma session before going into recess until New Year's Eve.
Members were notified that there would be no votes this week, which means the current shutdown will almost certainly be unresolved when the new Congress gets underway on Jan. 3. It's at that point, of course, that there will be a new House Democratic majority, led by Nancy Pelosi -- who'll be far less inclined to satisfy the White House's wishes than the outgoing Republican majority.
In theory, GOP leaders could still schedule a vote on a measure to reopen the government between now and Thursday, but given the absence of serious negotiations, there's little reason to expect an 11th-hour breakthrough.
A week ago, Donald Trump said his shutdown could "last for a very long time." A week later, we're left with an awkward question: how and when will this fiasco end?
The impasse is relatively straightforward: the president says he'll keep the partial shutdown going until Congress ponies up billions of dollars for a border wall. Democrats have made clear they'll refuse to pay the ransom. Either Dems will give in, or Trump will go back to the position he maintained as recently as last Wednesday.
If I had to guess, I'd say Democrats will agree to throw some additional money at non-wall border-security measures, at which point Trump, left with no credible options, will declare victory and brag to his base about how tough he fought those rascally Dems.
The alternative is a shutdown that could last indefinitely.
Postscript: In case you're curious, the record for the longest shutdown was 21 days. That 21-day shutdown was launched by Newt Gingrich's Republican-led Congress in 1995.