US - Government shutdown begins as budget talks falter in senate

US - Government shutdown begins as budget talks falter in senate
Sat Jan 20, 2018 08:57:07

Much of the federal government officially shut down early Saturday morning after Senate Democrats, showing remarkable solidarity in the face of a clear political danger, blocked consideration of a stopgap spending measure to keep the government operating.

(NewYork Time) -- But senators from both parties were scrambling for a new deal to reopen the government quickly, possibly just hours after the midnight deadline passed.

With just 50 senators voting in favor, Senate Republican leaders fell well short of the 60 votes necessary to proceed on the spending measure, which had passed the House on Thursday. As the clock ticked toward midnight, when funding for the government was set to expire, senators huddled on the floor of the crowded Senate chamber, searching for some way forward.

But even if the Senate had adopted such a bill, it would also have had to pass the House, and lawmakers simply ran out of time. The government shutdown was one year to the day after President Trump took office.

“Senate Democrats own the Schumer Shutdown,” the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement. “Tonight, they put politics above our national security, military families, and our country’s ability to serve all Americans.”

Democrats countered that Republicans were responsible for the management of a government in their control.

“A Republican president occupies the White House, and Republicans hold the majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate,” said Representative Nita Lowey, Democrat of New York. “It is outrageous that, even with unified control of government, the majority could not chart a course toward keeping the government open, the most basic responsibility of Congress.”

The Senate’s vote, late Friday night, came after a day of budget brinkmanship in Washington that included a last-minute negotiating session between Mr. Trump and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. The 90-minute meeting produced progress, both men said, but no deal. Just hours later, it appeared to collapse.

The House-passed bill would fund government operations through Feb. 16, and extend funding by six years for the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, a provision intended to secure Democratic votes.

But Democrats were seeking concessions on other priorities, such as protecting young undocumented immigrants from deportation, increasing domestic spending, securing disaster aid for Puerto Rico and bolstering the government’s response to the opioid epidemic.

Federal agencies had prepared for the shutdown; on Thursday night, officials at the White House Office of Management and Budget instructed federal agency leaders to give their employees informal notice of who would be furloughed and who would not if funding lapsed.

Formal notifications are to be given as early as Saturday morning, budget office officials said, insisting on anonymity to brief reporters about the details of what the White House called “lapse planning and shutdown operations.”

More than one million active-duty military personnel will serve with no lapse, they said, but could not be paid until the shutdown ends. Agencies like the Energy Department that have funding that is not subject to annual appropriations can use that money to stay open, the officials said, and the administration is encouraging them to do so. Most mandatory programs — entitlements such as Social Security that are automatically funded rather than subject to congressional appropriations — can continue without disruption.

Officials said Mr. Trump may travel on Air Force One to carry out his constitutional responsibilities, including a planned trip next week to Davos, Switzerland — although it was unclear whether trips to Mar-a-Lago, his exclusive club in Palm Beach, Fla., for golf and socializing, such as the one he had planned for this weekend, would fall into that category.

The president tried to jump-start negotiations by inviting Mr. Schumer to meet with him in the Oval Office.

“We had a long and detailed meeting,” Mr. Schumer said at the Capitol after leaving the White House. “We discussed all of the major outstanding issues. We made some progress, but we still have a good number of disagreements. The discussions will continue.”

By Friday night, a last-minute congressional deal to stop a rare shutdown of a federal government under one-party control remained elusive.

“Our Democratic colleagues are engaged in a dangerous game of chicken,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, warned in a speech on the Senate floor.

Mr. Trump, who described his session with Mr. Schumer as an “excellent preliminary meeting” in a Twitter post Friday afternoon, did not appear able or willing to suggest his own solution.

Mr. Cornyn said Mr. Trump rejected a proposal by Mr. Schumer to fund the government through Tuesday to allow negotiations to continue.

“The president told him to go back and talk to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and work it out,” Mr. Cornyn said, referring to the House speaker and Senate majority leader. A spokesman for Mr. Schumer, Matt House, said that was not true.

Senate Democrats still held out hope that Mr. Trump, scorched by the firestorm prompted by his vulgar, racially tinged comments on Africa last week, would be willing to make concessions.

“It’s time for us as Democrats and Republicans to sit down in a room together, think about this great nation and the frustration they have with our political system and those of us in political life,’’ Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said in a speech on the Senate floor.

Around the country, state and local officials were left scratching their heads at the dysfunction in Washington.

“We’re the United States of America,” Gov. Matt Mead, the two-term Republican governor of Wyoming, said in an interview Friday. “We should be able to figure out these problems without going to the cliff every so often whether it’s with Republicans or Democrats in office. There certainly has to be a better way.”

Democrats delivered speeches on the Senate floor in front of a huge placard that blared, “Trump Shutdown.” At the White House, Mr. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said the Trump administration was preparing for “what we’re calling the ‘Schumer shutdown.’”

Tempers were flaring in the Republican Party as well. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a moderate on immigration who has been trying to broker a deal with Democrats, laced into Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas on Friday, deriding him as “the Steve King of the Senate” in an interview with MSNBC, a reference to the Iowa congressman who is perhaps the most virulent anti-immigrant voice in Congress.

Mr. Cotton, who has helped thwart Mr. Graham’s efforts, retorted by referring to Mr. Graham’s failed 2016 presidential bid.

“The difference between Steve King and Lindsey Graham is that Steve King can actually win an election in Iowa,” Mr. Cotton told reporters.

Mr. Cotton went on to argue that it was Mr. Trump’s views on immigration that powered him to the Republican Party’s nomination, while Mr. Graham was relegated to the “kiddie table” at the primary debates.

Mr. Trump canceled plans to travel to his Florida resort on Friday and will stay in Washington until a spending bill is passed, a White House official said Friday morning.

If Democrats vote down the stopgap bill, the move would hold undeniable risks. Ten Senate Democrats are running for re-election in states that Mr. Trump won in 2016, and many of those states — such as Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota and West Virginia — may hold little sympathy for one of the primary causes of the looming shutdown: protecting the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers.

Five of those Democrats introduced legislation on Friday to withhold the pay of members of Congress during a shutdown. “If members of Congress can’t figure this out and keep the government open, then none of us should get paid,” said Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri.

Three of them, Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, announced they would vote for the Republican spending measure.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, warned that the Senate was “just hours away from an entirely avoidable government shutdown.”

“This vote should be a no-brainer,” Mr. McConnell said, “and it would be, except the Democratic leader has convinced his members to filibuster any funding bill that doesn’t include legislation they are demanding for people who came into the United States illegally.”

The stopgap bill, which passed the House by a vote of 230 to 197, would keep the government open for a month, provide funding for CHIP and delay or suspend a handful of taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act.

About a dozen, or possibly more, Senate Democratic votes will be needed to approve the measure because some Republican senators are expected to vote no.

The standoff on immigration dates back to September, when Mr. Trump moved to end an Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which shields the young immigrants from deportation. Democrats have been eager to enshrine into law protections for those immigrants.

At the same time, congressional leaders from both parties have been trying to reach an agreement to raise strict limits on domestic and military spending, a deal that would pave the way for a long-term spending package. So far this fiscal year, they have relied on stopgap measures to keep the government funded.

By Friday evening, it was still far from clear how the political blame would be divvied up if the government does shut down on Saturday, the anniversary of Mr. Trump’s inauguration.

“At some point, Congress needs to do better than government-by-crisis, short-term fixes, and sidestepping difficult issues,’’ said Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware. “That time is now.”

(Photo: President Trump with Senators Mitch McConnell, center, and Chuck Schumer on Wednesday in Washington, The New York Times)

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