US Congress meets briefly, takes no steps to end shutdown

Showing little sense of urgency over the shutdown, now in its sixth day, the Senate and the House of Representatives did nothing to restore funding for the roughly 20 per cent of the government affected.
A stop sign is seen near the White House during the shutdown, Dec 27, 2018.
A stop sign is seen near the White House during the shutdown, Dec 27, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS, AFP) - Both chambers of the US Congress convened for only a few minutes late on Thursday (Dec 27), but took no steps to end a partial federal government shutdown before adjourning until next week.

Showing little sense of urgency over the shutdown, now in its sixth day, the Senate and the House of Representatives did nothing to restore funding for the roughly 20 per cent of the government affected.

The shutdown was on track to continue into next week and possibly drag on well into January. 

Budget deliberations will continue only next Wednesday, which would be the 12th day of the shutdown. 

The shutdown was triggered by Republican President Donald Trump's demand, largely opposed by Democrats and some lawmakers within his own party, that US taxpayers provide US$5 billion (S$6.8 billion) for a wall he wants to build along the US-Mexico border.

Trump wants the money to be included in spending measures that Congress must pass to restore funding to several government agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Agriculture and Commerce.

On Saturday, when their existing funding expired, those agencies shut down "nonessential" operations. It was the third shutdown of the year.

The previous two were brief.

"The President has made clear that any Bill to fund the government must adequately fund border security," White House spokesman Sarah Sanders said in a statement that made no mention of Trump's proposed wall.

She accused Democrats of “openly choosing to keep our government closed to protect illegal immigrants rather than the American people.” She said Trump “will not sign a proposal that does not first prioritise our county’s safety and security.” 

The shutdown has had only a limited impact so far, partly due to holiday vacations being underway for the 800,000 or so federal workers affected, though that could change soon.