US lawmakers to make last-ditch bid to end impasse

Congress to reconvene for key vote before thousands of workers are left without pay due to govt shutdown

WASHINGTON • US lawmakers were yesterday expected to launch a last-ditch attempt to end a Budget impasse before hundreds of thousands of federal workers are forced to start the work week at home with no pay.

The impact of the shutdown that began at midnight last Friday has been largely limited so far, forcing the closure of sites like New York's Statue of Liberty, but the effect will be acute if the stalemate continues today.

Republicans and Democrats have traded bitter recriminations over who is to blame for the failure to pass a stop-gap funding measure by the Jan 20 deadline, a year to the day since US President Donald Trump took office.

Highlighting the deep political polarisation, crowds estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands took to the streets of major cities on Saturday to march against the President and his policies.

Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell on Saturday set a key vote for a funding measure for 1am today (2pm Singapore time), with both houses of Congress set to reconvene yesterday. "I assure you we will have the vote at 1am on Monday, unless there is a desire to have it sooner," he said in a statement.

At the heart of the dispute is the thorny issue of undocumented immigration. Democrats have accused Republicans of poisoning chances of a deal and pandering to Mr Trump's populist base by refusing to fund a programme that protects 700,000 "Dreamers" - undocumented immigrants who arrived as children - from deportation.

Mr Trump, in return, has said that Democrats are "far more concerned with illegal immigrants than they are with our great military or safety at our dangerous southern border".

 

Mr Trump yesterday tweeted that if the shutdown stalemate continues, Republicans should consider the so-called "nuclear option" in the Senate, which would allow them to vote on a long-term Budget with a simple majority and no more continuing resolutions.

There have been four government shutdowns since 1990. In the last one in 2013, more than 800,000 government workers were put on temporary leave.

A deal had appeared likely last Friday afternoon, when Mr Trump - who has touted himself as a master negotiator - seemed to be close to an agreement with Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on protecting Dreamers.

But no such compromise was in the language that reached Congress for a stop-gap motion to keep the government open for four more weeks while a final arrangement is discussed. And Republicans failed to win enough Democratic support to bring it to a vote.

Congress reconvened for a rare Saturday session, where leaders of both sides were meant to hammer out their differences to prevent the shutdown from stretching to today. Instead, they traded accusations of responsibility for the shutdown.

Mr Schumer said trying to negotiate with Mr Trump "was like negotiating with Jell-O". "It's impossible to negotiate with a constantly moving target," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr McConnell said that Mr Schumer "took the extraordinary step" of preventing the legislation from passing and thus "plunging the country into this totally avoidable mess".

Nevertheless, glimmers of a breakthrough were evident by late Saturday, as moderate Democrats and Republicans began to rally behind a new short-term funding proposal to reopen the government through early next month.

That plan could include funding for storm-ravaged states, re-authorisation of the Children's Health Insurance Programme - and an implicit agreement to hold votes at some point in the coming weeks on a bipartisan immigration deal, according to senators involved in the discussions.

Republicans have a tenuous one-seat majority in the Senate, and needed to lure some Democrats to their side last Friday to get a 60-vote super-majority to bring the motion forward. They fell 10 votes short.

Because of the shutdown, Mr Trump stayed home from a planned weekend trip to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for a lavish party to celebrate one year since his inauguration.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG, WASHINGTON POST

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2018, with the headline 'US lawmakers to make last-ditch bid to end impasse'. Print Edition | Subscribe