This year’s midterm elections will decide which party controls the House and Senate in the 118th Congress. Republican candidates did not perform as well, on average, as many expected heading into Election Day. And several House races remain too close to call as a result. But Republicans are nevertheless favored in enough of those outstanding contests to likely have a majority in the House next year. Control of the Senate depends on what happens in Nevada, where the race between Adam Laxalt (R) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D) is too close to call, and in Georgia, where a December 6 runoff election will decide the contest between Herschel Walker (R) and Raphael Warnock (D). Republicans must win both races to have a majority in the Senate next year.

These races could also decide what happens in the remaining weeks of the 117th Congress. Lawmakers return to Capitol Hill next week for a short lame-duck session before the new Congress convenes on January 3. During the lame-duck session, lawmakers will consider presidential nominations (in the Senate), the annual defense authorization bill, and a government funding bill.

Funding the Government

Congress passed a continuing resolution in September that extended last year’s funding levels until December 16. Lawmakers must pass a full-year omnibus appropriations bill or another short-term continuing resolution before that date to avert a government shutdown. And while Democrats would like to pass a full-year omnibus, Republicans may call on Congress to pass a short-term continuing resolution if they retake the majority in the House and/or Senate. Conservative Republicans are already on record supporting such a move. They proposed a continuing resolution in September that extended funding into the 118th Congress instead of the lame duck.

Election results have prompted lawmakers to change their minds about how to fund the government during recent lame-duck sessions. For example, Republicans decided to defer decisions about how to fund the government to Democrats after losing control of the House and Senate in the 2006 midterm elections. As a result, they passed a continuing resolution (Public Law 109-383) in that year’s lame-duck session that extended government funding until February 15, 2007.

Republicans similarly proposed passing a continuing resolution instead of a full-year omnibus during the lame-duck session that followed the 2010 midterm elections, in which Democrats lost 63 seats – and their majority – in the House and 7 Senate seats. Republicans prevailed, and Congress extended government funding until March 4 of the following year (Public Law 111-322).

Republicans also proposed passing a continuing resolution in 2014 after winning control of the Senate and gaining 13 House seats in that year’s midterm elections. During the subsequent lame-duck session, however, Congress decided to fund most of the government in a full-year omnibus (Public Law 113-235). However, House Republicans chose to extend Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding until February 27 of the following year. Republicans did so to improve their chances of extracting policy concessions from President Barack Obama regarding his Deferred Access for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order.

Most recently, Republicans passed a short-term continuing resolution (Public Law 114-254) in 2016 after Donald Trump won that year’s presidential election. Republicans preferred to work with the incoming administration to fund the government instead of the outgoing Obama administration.

The Takeaway

Lawmakers change their minds routinely when it advantages their preferred outcomes. Republicans will have more incentive to support a short-term continuing resolution over a full-year omnibus appropriations bill if they control the House and/or Senate in the 118th Congress.