New Congress Convenes as Shutdown Nears Two Week Mark

New Congress Convenes as Shutdown Nears Two Week Mark

The 116th Congress convened at noon today amid a partial government shutdown that will reach the two-week mark tomorrow.  The House is now under control of Democrats while the Senate remains in Republican hands.  The pagentry associated with swearing in new Representatives and Senators soon returned to business as usual, with the two parties blaming each other for the inability to pass legislation to reopen NASA, NOAA and many other departments and agencies that have been without funding since December 21.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California), Speaker of the House

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was elected Speaker of the House, a position she held the last time Democrats were in control (2006-2010).

As promised, tonight she brought up two bills to reopen the 25 percent of the government that is currently closed for lack of funding.

H.R. 21 is a Consolidated Appropriations bill that combines six of the 12 regular FY2019 appropriations bills, including the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill that funds NASA and NOAA. It would fund all of them for the rest of FY2019.  It passed 241-190.

H. J. Res. 1  is a temporary Continuing Resolution (CR) that would fund the Department of Homeland Security through February 8 while negotiations continue about funding for President Trump’s border wall, which is under the jurisdiction of that department.  It does not contain the $5 billion Trump wants for the wall.  It passed 239-192.

There are 235 Democrats and 199 Republicans in the House, with one seat still undecided.

To be enacted, a bill must pass the House, the Senate, and be signed into law by the President.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), Senate Majority Leader

Any bill the House passes next goes to the Senate.  Even though H.R. 21 uses the Senate versions of those six appropriations bills (Agriculture, CJS, Financial Services, Interior-Environment, State and Foreign Operations, Transportation-HUD), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called it “political theater, not productive lawmaking. … The Senate will not take up any proposal that does not have a real chance of passing this chamber and get a presidential signature.”

Trump issued a Statement of Administration Policy, which is typically done for major legislation before it is debated by the House or Senate, threatening to veto the bills.  “The Administration is committed to working with the Congress to reopen lapsed agencies, but cannot accept legislation that provides unnecessary funding for wasteful programs while ignoring the Nation’s urgent border security needs.”

Pelosi, McConnell and other members of the congressional leadership are scheduled to meet with Trump tomorrow to continue discussing the issues.  Semantics may play a role in resolving the stalemate.  Democrats support border “security,” Trump wants a “wall,” and “fencing” and “physical barriers” already exist.

Meanwhile, 800,000 federal workers are either working (if they are “essential” like the Coast Guard) or not working (if they are not) without pay.  Scientists at NASA, NOAA and NSF will not be able to participate in key science conferences scheduled for next week — the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and American Astronomical Society (AAS) Winter meeting — if the shutdown continues as appears likely.  Development of rockets and spacecraft and issuing contracts and reports by civil servants are suspended while the impasse remains.

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