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US government shutdown to last for five days

Washington Post,
Publish Date
Sunday, 23 December 2018, 12:38p.m.
The US Senate has adjourned without a funding deal being agreed on. (Photo / AP)
The US Senate has adjourned without a funding deal being agreed on. (Photo / AP)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the Senate would close for legislative business until next Friday NZT, leaving many federal agencies closed until late in the week at the earliest.

"Listen, anything can happen," McConnell said. "We're pulling for an agreement that can get 60 votes in the Senate and a majority in the House."

The decision came after US President Donald Trump had a lunch with conservative Republicans and dispatched Vice-President Mike Pence to the Capitol to make the latest offer to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. That meeting ended after 30 minutes with no resolution.

"Still talking," Pence told reporters as he and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney left Schumer's office.

The senator had said he would "remind" the vice-president that Democrats would not sign off on funding for a border wall.

By closing the Senate for five days, lawmakers will go home for the holidays as hundreds of thousands of federal workers are left in limbo about their status.

The effects of the partial shutdown will be felt more broadly on Thursday, the first day the federal workforce is expected to return.

The Capitol was quiet, after lawmakers went home with Congress still at an impasse over Trump's demands for billions of dollars to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.

Both the House and Senate opened but there were no signs of progress in negotiations, which had only been happening at the staff level.

Schumer and McConnell spoke on the floor, with both blaming the other party for the shutdown and neither showing any sign of giving in.

Before Pence and Schumer met today, Schumer's office sent out a pre-emptive statement beforehand saying he would "remind" Pence that Democrats would not sign off on any wall funding.

Few lawmakers were in the Capitol and no votes were scheduled in either chamber. Many lawmakers returned to their home states as they awaited word of the talks, having been assured that they will get 24 hours notice before any vote occurs to reopen the government.
The fundamental stalemate remains in place: Trump says he won't accept legislation unless it contains about US$5 billion in funding for his border wall, and Democrats have the votes to block any wall money from going through Congress.

Trump sees this round of negotiations as his best, and possibly last, to exact wall funding from Congress, as Democrats are set to take over the House in January after big wins in the Midterm elections.

The President wrote on Twitter that "We are negotiating with the Democrats on desperately needed Border Security . . . but it could be a long stay."

Now, that gridlock is affecting large parts of the federal government. Funding for numerous agencies, including those that operate national parks, homeland security, law enforcement, tax collection and transportation, has expired. Close to 400,000 federal workers are expected to be sitting at home without pay until a deal is reached, and numerous services will be halted in that time, with the effects broadening the longer the funding lapse lasts.

Dozens of national parks and monuments were closed. The Securities and Exchange Commission has posted a list of the services it will soon suspend, including the processing of certain business records. The Justice Department, Commerce Department and Internal Revenue Service are preparing to keep thousands of workers home without pay.

Employees at those agencies deemed essential will continue working without pay, including many Transportation Security Administration workers dealing with the influx of holiday travellers. After every previous shutdown, Congress has passed legislation to retroactively pay employeeThe rest of the government, including the military, is funded through September by separate legislation Congress and Trump passed earlier this year.

Senior administration officials put the onus on Senate Democrats to put forth options that include US$5 billion for Trump's promised border wall, saying it was a must for any deal.

"The President came into office promising a wall along the southern border. We couldn't just let there be no wall," an official said on a briefing call with reporters.

When a reporter reminded the officials that Trump campaigned on a promise that Mexico would pay for construction of the wall, the officials said the Administration continues to believe Mexico ultimately would pay for the wall but would not entertain questions about how that might be. The Mexican Government has said it would not fund the wall.
McConnell then tried to pin the blame on Senate Democrats. He suggested the government would remain closed "until the President and Senate Democrats have reached an agreement" - even though other Republicans have suggested this is a five-way negotiation among the White House and the four congressional leaders.

He pointed out other times when Senate Democrats had voiced support for border wall funding and yet now objected to any funds that would go toward an actual wall. "They've refused to meet President Trump halfway," McConnell said, declining to mention that those past talks included concessions by Trump on a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants. No such grand deal is on the table now.

A few minutes after McConnell spoke, Schumer suggested Trump was the impediment to the government reopening. "At midnight last night, roughly 25 per cent of the government shut down because of one person and one person alone: President Trump," Schumer said. "We arrived at this moment because President Trump has been on a destructive two-week temper tantrum."

Schumer rejected the idea that a deal had to be brokered between him and Trump, saying McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan could not "duck responsibility" from the negotiations. He and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi continue to support US$1.3 billion in border security funds as long as they are not spent on building a wall and instead go toward technology security, such as drones.

"If you want to open the government, you must abandon the wall, plain and simple," Schumer said, accusing Trump of supporting an inefficient wall that would end up "swindling the American taxpayer."

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