The odds of a government shutdown depend on a few factors.  Currently, the odds of a shutdown seem to be as high as ever but still anything is possible. The deadline is rapidly approaching.  The February 2019 government shutdown deadline is 11:59pm on February 15 2019.  Most Federal employees and agencies will start being affected on the following Tuesday, after the weekend and Monday federal holiday.

A major factor is the presence of the filibuster rule. A filibuster basically is a way for any senator to “talk a bill to death” unless 60 senators vote in favor of the bill.  So, a vote for a continuing resolution or a longer-term funding bill would require 60 ayes.

Historically this rule, which was borrowed from ancient Romans, was a near certainty to continue as part of the US Senate tradition.

Beautiful image of the ruins of Rome's Colosseum
Rome’s Colosseum, Photo by Paolo Costa Baldi The odds of a government shutdown are greatly affected by the Roman invention of a filibuster

But President Trump and others have called for an end to the filibuster. Averting a government shutdown may be the high-stakes issue that causes the camel’s back to break.

This threat greatly reduces the risk of a longer-term government shutdown.  While the filibuster rule is in effect the number of senators in the majority party is a large factor.  With 53 Republican senators, there needs to be at least 7 Democrats or independents in favor of the law.

The political climate and topical issues are another major factor.  The three recent shutdowns in December 2018 through late January, February 2018 and January 2018 were partially due to immigration issues being a key negotiation point.  It appears that Democrats have since backed off of DACA recipients as a key issue but have steadfastly been against a border wall.

Gun control is another lingering issue. But there is not broad enough support or political will for this to be a reason for shutting down the government.

Shutting down the government is a costly and disruptive activity.

But funding the government with politically poisonous attachments could end some legislators’ careers. The minority party hasn’t rallied around any rationale for a shutdown just yet. So the odds appear low.

Gambling market

There are some gambling markets that bet on the odds of a government shutdown.  Predictit.org is one.  The current odds there are around 20 percent.

Graph of the odds of a government shutdown
The odds of a government shutdown are hovering between 20-30 percent as of the Wednesday before the shutdown deadline.

I’d peg this as being a bit high today, but might be right tomorrow. With the March 2018 government shutdown deadline so soon, the odds will change rapidly.

Some more filibuster history

The longest filibuster in US senate history was by Strom Thurmond.  He spoke for over 24 hours against the Civil Rights Act of 1957

The second longest was by Alfonse D’Amato in 1986 during which he read the Washington D.C. phone book.  This filibuster lasted nearly 24 hours as well.