U.S. government shutdown continues with no indication Trump, Democrats near deal
|National Post 24 Dec 2018 at 05:50|
A partial U.S. government shutdown continued with no indication that President Donald Trump and Democrats were any closer to resolving White House demands for money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Both sides dug into their positions without any signs of a deal that could reopen the nine government departments that ran out of funding on Saturday. That suggests the shutdown could be lengthy.
“If you want to open the government, you must abandon the wall,” said Minority leader Chuck Schumer of New York on the Senate floor on Saturday. He described the wall as a “bone to the hard right.”
Trump for the second day suggested the shutdown could last a long time. “We are negotiating with the Democrats on desperately needed Border Security (Gangs, Drugs, Human Trafficking & more) but it could be a long stay,” Trump tweeted.
Several Republican lawmakers, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, who is chairman of the appropriations panel, and four representatives from the conservative House Freedom Caucus went to the White House to meet with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence about border security.
Trump earlier in the week scuttled an agreement that would have kept the government open through Feb. 8 after coming under heavy criticism from conservative talk show hosts and some allies in the House because the measure didn’t include the US$5 billion he wanted for the wall. While negotiations to resolve the impasse are continuing, it’s not clear whether parts of the government will remain shuttered for days or weeks.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Saturday on the Senate floor that he pushed the “pause button” while Democrats and the Trump administration negotiate. “We don’t need to be here for long,” he said.
Ending the shutdown — which affects nine of 15 federal departments, dozens of agencies and hundreds of thousands of workers — would also require the support of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who’s in line to become speaker on Jan. 3.
The failure of elected officials to keep the government fully operating caps a chaotic week in Washington, during which Trump announced a withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Syria, a draw-down of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Stocks dropped sharply Friday as a shutdown looked inevitable.
Negotiations between the White House and Democrats went on into Friday night. Trump’s emissaries were Pence, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who shuttled between private meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Lawmakers were told they’d get 24 hours notice before voting on a bill. Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said that even if a deal were reached Saturday afternoon, a vote in the chamber may not take place until Wednesday.
Trump has stopped talking about a concrete wall in recent weeks and focused on building a more fence-like steel structure. A deal with Democrats could revolve around allowing funds to be used for that kind of structure.
Congressional leaders said they wouldn’t call lawmakers back for votes until both chambers and the White House had an agreement on how to end the dispute. Schumer has told Pence that Trump must publicly back any deal before it comes to a vote, according to a Senate Democratic aide.
If a deal isn’t done before Jan. 3, when Democrats take control of the House, negotiations may become more difficult for Trump.
This week’s blow-up was sudden. On Wednesday, the Senate easily passed a temporary spending measure without any money for the wall after getting signals from the White House that Trump wouldn’t press the issue and trigger a shutdown. But after the outcry from conservatives, including talk show host Rush Limbaugh, the House, at Trump’s insistence, amended it a day later to include US$5 billion for the wall. That was unacceptable to Democrats who have enough votes in the Senate to block the legislation.
On Friday, senators who had left town were summoned back to Washington to vote on the plan as amended by the House. At first, GOP leaders in the chamber struggled to muster enough support for the House plan to move forward. That led to negotiations with the White House. The Senate eventually voted to begin debate, but agreed to wait for a bipartisan agreement before moving any further.
John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said a potential deal could include US$1.6 billion for border security, slightly more than Democrats were offering in recent weeks. It wasn’t clear whether Trump would accept that amount or if Democrats would agree to more than the US$1.375 billion they’d previously offered.
“This isn’t rocket science to try to come up with a figure,” Cornyn said.
Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who has traded barbs with the president in the past, faulted Trump over pushing to shut the government at the urging of commentators who have told him to stand up to Democrats.
“This is tyranny of talk radio,” said the retiring senator. “How do you deal with that? Tyranny of talk radio. Two talk radio hosts completely flipped a president.”
In a video posted on Twitter Friday evening, Trump appealed to Senate Democrats: “We have a wonderful list of things that we need to keep our country safe. So let’s get out. Let’s work together. Let’s be bipartisan and let’s get it done. The shutdown hopefully will not last long.”
But the Democrats, along with some Republicans, said they couldn’t support the US$5 billion sought by Trump because they said a wall was an ineffective and inefficient method of securing the border.
Schumer and Pelosi said in a joint statement released early Saturday that the president “threw a temper tantrum and convinced House Republicans to push our nation into a destructive Trump Shutdown in the middle of the holiday season.”
“Democrats have offered Republicans multiple proposals to keep the government open,” the two leaders said, “including one that already passed the Senate unanimously, and all of which include funding for strong, sensible, and effective border security -– not the president’s ineffective and expensive wall.”
Trump last week met with Pelosi and Schumer in front of television cameras and said he’d be proud to take responsibility for shutting down the government over border protection funding. But on Friday, he was blaming Democrats for the impasse.
The two previous shutdowns earlier this year were short-lived and were over issues including immigration and spending levels.
The nine departments that will shut down early Dec. 22 represent about a quarter of the US$1.24 trillion in government discretionary spending for fiscal year 2019. The remaining parts of the government, including the Defense Department, Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, were already funded and won’t be affected by the shutdown, nor with mandatory entitlement programs like Social Security payments.
The Department of Veterans Affairs will also not be affected, according to a statement from VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. The Department of Transportation would keep about two-thirds of its more than 50,000 employees on the job.
An estimated 400,000 federal employees will work without pay and 350,000 will now be furloughed, according to a congressional Democratic aide. The essential employees who work during a shutdown are paid retroactively when the government reopens and payroll operations resume. After previous shutdowns, Congress also has passed legislation to retroactively pay furloughed workers.
The 16-day full government shutdown in October 2013 cost the economy $US24 billion, according to Standard and Poor’s.
–With assistance from Anna Edgerton and Billy House.
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