US Congress heads to stopgap Bill to avert government shutdown

Without action by Congress, federal agencies including the Department of Agriculture, State Department and Department of Homeland Security would find themselves without any money to pay employees and administer programmes through the fiscal year that
Without action by Congress, federal agencies including the Department of Agriculture, State Department and Department of Homeland Security would find themselves without any money to pay employees and administer programmes through the fiscal year that ends next Sept 30.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US Congress, facing a Friday (Dec 7) deadline for approving around US$450 billion (S$615.02 billion) in funding for several government agencies or forcing them into a partial shutdown, is steering toward a temporary extension as President Donald Trump and Democrats argue over border wall funding.

Congressional aides on Monday said that a one-week or two-week extension of the Dec 7 deadline was under consideration.

Without action by Congress, federal agencies including the Department of Agriculture, State Department and Department of Homeland Security would find themselves without any money to pay employees and administer programmes through the fiscal year that ends next Sept 30.

Mr Trump has demanded US$5 billion for this year as part of his plan to build a wall on the border with Mexico that Democrats argue would be ineffective at keeping out illegal immigrants and illicit drugs.

Instead, Democrats want to continue improving less costly fencing and employing high-tech instruments to detect illegal border crossings.

The total cost of the wall project is expected to exceed US$25 billion and could spark lawsuits over the government seizing private property in some construction areas.

In a Monday Twitter post, Mr Trump wrote, "We would save Billions of Dollars if the Democrats would give us the votes to build the Wall. Either way, people will NOT be allowed into our Country illegally! We will close the entire Southern Border if necessary. Also, STOP THE DRUGS!"

Previously, Mr Trump has threatened to force a partial government shutdown if Congress does not give him the money he wants for the wall.

The President had been scheduled to meet on Tuesday with House of Representatives Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer to discuss the impasse.

But memorial observances in the Capitol for former President George H.W. Bush have postponed that meeting.

If at any point Congress and Mr Trump cannot agree on legislation to keep the government agencies running, essential services, such as the FBI and other federal law enforcement, would continue.

But some vital programmes would have to be suspended until the money dispute was resolved.

For example, visitors most likely would not be admitted to national parks, and some Securities and Exchange Commission and Internal Revenue Service activities could be curtailed, as well as some Justice Department programmes.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russia's meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections would continue, according to congressional aides.

Funding already is in place for many agencies, such as the Defence Department.