It’s been less than five years since the last shutdown, but Congress has seen significant turnover since then, leaving a large pool of members and aides with little to no experience on how to handle a funding standoff. Now offices are scrambling to make preparations and figure out any possible tips or tricks to help lessen the blow for their staff and constituents.
Multiple Democratic and Republican House offices have advanced bonuses to staff in the event they have to skip a pay period during a shutdown. Some chiefs-of-staff have prioritized adding staff during the August break and September in anticipation of upcoming hiring freezes. Staffers are gaming out how a shutdown might affect their participation in student loan programs for government employees and the scheduled October 1 restart for payments. There’s a question if congressional interns, who had not been paid before 2022, will be considered “essential” workers. Similarly, it’s not clear if caucus staff are considered essential.
“If the McCarthy speakers’ race is an indication of how government operations get held hostage to meet the extremist MAGA goals, then we should all scenario plan for a lengthy shutdown,” Sarah Ghermay Iddrissu, chief of staff for Rep. Jamaal Bowman, told Semafor. “Hopefully this isn’t the case, but we are in this new reality.”
There have been 20 funding gaps since fiscal year 1977 with the last one lasting for 34 days from Dec 21, 2018 to Jan 25, 2019. Since then, 134 new House members have been sworn into Congress.
Even the top committee leaders tasked with getting them up to speed are relative newbies. The chair of the Committee on House Administration, Bryan Steil, R-Wisc. was sworn in during the last shutdown and will now be guiding members through this one if it happens. Rep. Joe Morelle, D-N.Y., the ranking Democrat on the committee, first arrived in Congress just weeks before the same shutdown. This week, he hosted a members-only briefing on how to serve constituents during a funding breach after consulting Steil.
“I think we’re going to start to try this week to get some clarity with what our colleagues in the majority are going to do,” Morelle told Semafor. “And then we’ll be informing people.”
Room for Disagreement
Some are more optimistic about how they’ll fare. “The only way a House office loses a paycheck is if the shutdown lasts over a month, and that’s not going to happen,” one senior Republican aide told Semafor, adding leadership is behind much of the “fear-mongering” over a possible shutdown in order to pressure people into a deal.