US Senate votes to avert shutdown by delaying Trump’s wall fight

The US Congress began advancing legislation on Wednesday to fund several federal agencies through February 8 to avert a partial government shutdown, but without including money for a US-Mexico border wall that President Donald Trump demanded.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks from the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec 19, 2018.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks from the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec 19, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – The US Senate took the first step to avert a partial US government shutdown by passing a temporary spending Bill that puts off a confrontation over President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall until February.

The Bill, passed by voice vote on Wednesday night (Dec 19), would keep government agencies open by extending current funding through Feb 8. The House will now take up the measure, and leaders from both parties have signalled their support.

Trump, who had demanded the spending Bill include new money for the wall on the US-Mexico border, hasn’t said whether he would sign it. If the measure isn’t enacted, nine government departments would run out of funding on Friday night.

Democrats will be in control of the House when the temporary funding expires, giving Trump less leverage in his demand for US$5 billion (S$6.9 billion) in wall funding. 

Dealing with the funding expiration will interrupt Democrats’ plans to take up priority legislation and could lead to a high-profile fight between Trump and Nancy Pelosi of California, who is likely to be elected speaker.

The president said last week he would be “proud” to shut the government if it would force Democrats to provide the wall money, but the White House has since appeared to backtrack. White House senior aide Kellyanne Conway told reporters on Wednesday that Trump could be open to the stopgap spending Bill.

The Senate’s short-term spending bill, H.R. 695, would also temporarily extend several programmes otherwise scheduled to expire, including the national flood insurance program and EB-5 investor visas.

 
 

'POLITICAL SPITE'?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, speaking on the Senate floor, accused Democrats of acting out of “political spite” and being inflexible over border wall spending even as the White House was signalling some willingness to compromise.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama said Tuesday night he began work on the stopgap Bill after concluding that a long-term resolution probably wouldn’t be found before Friday night.

A partial shutdown would hit agencies including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the departments of Homeland Security, Treasury, Justice and Interior. More than 420,000 federal employees would work without pay and more than 380,000 workers would be sent home.

The remaining six departments that wouldn’t be closed – including the Defence Department – represent about three-quarters of discretionary spending and are funded through Sept 30 under legislation passed and signed by Trump earlier this year.

Democratic leaders this month offered Trump US$1.3 billion for border fencing after backing US$1.6 billion earlier this year. McConnell on Tuesday proposed to Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer a plan that would provide US$1.6 billion for border security in addition to US$1 billion for Trump’s immigration priorities. Schumer of New York rejected it. The immigration funding cannot be used for a wall, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The Trump administration says it is looking into whether it could use funds from various agencies to fund a wall, though Democrats say it cannot do that without permission from Congress.