Congress managed to pull off the least disruptive shutdown in recent memory —launched on a Friday night, ended late Monday. Despite weeks of arguing and days of negotiating, the whole thing amounts to little more than a one-day vacation for a half million federal employees who will almost certainly be reimbursed for their forced day off.
Beyond that, here are the top takeaways from the Lost Weekend.
Democrats lost the argument
For Republicans, this was an easy messaging moment: Democrats are holding up pay for the military in order to protect immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally. Of course, this is not the whole story and military pay was not affected, but it is a clear and simple message that everyone could parrot.
For Democrats it was more complicated. Saturday morning, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made the case that her party was demanding a broad budget deal covering an array of domestic programs. But by Monday, Democrats in the Senate were basically confirming it was all about immigration. They were now willing to vote for a 3-week funding bill they had rejected Friday because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to get moving on an immigration bill to reinstate DACA, the Obama-era protections for immigrants bought illegally to the U.S. as children.
So, as usual, the winning message is the one that fits better on a bumper sticker.
Democrats got a win they forgot to mention
The 3-week spending bill also, oddly, includes a 6-year extension of the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program. Democrats have been furious that Republicans let this program expire in September and they have been demanding that it be restored. Republicans added the CHIP extension to the short-term funding bill as a sweetener to attract Democratic votes, but it didn’t work last week. Monday, the bill passed with the CHIP provision attached, but Democrats did not leap to the podiums to cheer their great victory.
‘Shutdown’ is a more malleable word than we thought
This shutdown was not nearly as disruptive as prior shutdowns in part because it was really short and in part because the White House chose not to let it be disruptive. Gone were the images of the 2013 shutdown (under former president Barack Obama) of tourists staring through the locked doors of the museums and veterans barred from walking on to the open-air World War II memorial.
Instead, the last images of the 2018 shutdown are tweets from the Smithsonian and other federal agencies saying, basically “We found some extra money lying around and will keep our doors open for a while.”
It is a reminder that in Washington there is always a way, when there is a will.
Don’t forget about the House
It is all well and good for senators agree to have a bipartisan discussion about immigration, long-term spending and other major topics. But the fact of the matter is that any deal Senate Republicans work out with Senate Democrats is likely to be a very hard sell among the overwhelmingly conservative House Republican caucus, which still controls the agenda in that chamber.
Clear your calendar for Feb. 8
It is important to remember that the deal the Senate brokered Monday is just a 3-week extension — a week shorter than one that the House offered last week. The government has been operating since Oct. 1 under a series of short-term budget bills because Congress has been unable to agree on a year-long spending package. There is no reason to believe that the next spending deadline Feb. 8 will arrive with any less acrimony than the last one. That’s not saying there is going to be another government shutdown Feb. 9. But there certainly could be.