US Politics

Temporary bill could end US government shutdown – if both sides agree

As the shutdown creeps into its first week, lawmakers are working on a new bill could provide temporary funding until February 8

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 January, 2018, 12:05pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2018, 1:10am

After failing to reach an agreement to end a government shutdown on Sunday, US lawmakers now hope to pass a bill that will provide funding to keep the government open until February 8.

Under new plans, Democrats would agree to the three-week spending measure in return for a commitment from the Republican leadership in the Senate to address immigration policy and other pressing legislative matters in the coming weeks

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has told the Senate that if the two parties cannot find a mutually agreeable solution to thorny issues – particularly immigration, which is a sticking point for Democrats – then he will force the issue.

The February 8 bill follows on from a similar proposal that would have reopened the government until February 16, but which was blocked by Senate Democrats in the House of Representatives.

But early Monday morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan told “Fox & Friends” that if the Senate approves the temporary spending bill to reopen the government through February 8, the House would approve it too.

Ryan, a Republican in Wisconsin said negotiations on an immigration deal are taking place in good faith.

Trump: Senate should change rules if stalemate continues

Democrats want to protect immigrants who were brought in the country illegally as children. The party is sceptical of Republican pledges to bring up free-standing immigration legislation next month.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told MSNBC that he has “zero confidence” that Ryan will bring legislation to shield the roughly 700,000 immigrants, who are known as “Dreamers.”

And if no solution is found by February 8, then it will be taken to a vote, McConnell, a Republican, has told the Senate.

Opening the Senate Monday, McConnell said that if they could not find bipartisan solutions on immigration, military spending, disaster aid and other issues by the February 8 deadline then he would hold a vote on those matters.

Top Democrat Chuck Schumer did not appear on the floor to respond, but at least two Democrats who have been attempting to negotiate a way out of the shutdown mess said they were encouraged by McConnell’s tone.

Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said he’s “enormously optimistic” that there is a pathway to stop the shutdown, while Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said McConnell was “more specific and encouraging.” A bipartisan group of Senate moderates met again Monday morning to try and find resolution.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump has been absent from negotiations over the weekend.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney defended Trump’s lack of outreach on MSNBC Monday morning.

He said that Trump spoke with Democrats before the shutdown and will speak to them when it is over.

But he says: “we are not going to negotiate immigration in the middle of the shutdown.”

Instead, Trump has made a series of early morning tweets slamming Democrats.

“The Democrats are turning down services and security for citizens in favour of services and security for non-citizens. Not good!” he said in one tweet at 8am Monday.

“Democrats have shut down our government in the interests of their far left base. They don’t want to do it but are powerless!” he wrote an hour later.

And two hours after that he retweeted his own post from two days ago saying that “The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked” and calling for a “nuclear option”.

The top Democratic Senator, Chuck Schumer responded by saying he was “happy to continue my discussion with the majority leader about reopening the government” but added that the parties were “yet to reach an agreement on a path forward.”

McConnell then called for Congress to reconvene for another vote on a stopgap funding measure at noon, a proposal which was nodded through.

Hopes that the shutdown, which began at midnight on Friday, could be limited to the weekend had been raised in the afternoon when a bipartisan group huddled for hours on trying to end the stand-off but they ultimately failed to resolve all their differences.

Trump early Sunday encouraged the Senate’s Republican leaders to invoke the “nuclear option” – a procedural manoeuvre to change the chamber’s rules to allow passage of a budget by a simple majority of 51 votes to end the shutdown.

But Senate leaders have been wary of such a move in the past, as it could come back to haunt them the next time the other party holds a majority.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump had spoken during the day with McConnell and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn. She did not mention Trump’s speaking with any Democrats but said White House director of legislative affairs Marc Short had been in touch with members of both parties and updated the president.

“We are continuing to work hard towards reopening the government,” she said.

At the heart of the dispute is the issue of undocumented immigration. 

Democrats have accused Republicans of poisoning chances of a deal and pandering to Trump’s populist base by refusing to back a programme that protects an estimated 700,000 “Dreamers” – undocumented immigrants who arrived as children – from deportation. 

Essential federal services and military activity are continuing, but even active-duty troops will not be paid until a deal is reached to reopen the US government.

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.

“We’re just in a holding pattern. We just have to wait and see. It’s scary,” Noelle Joll, 50, a furloughed US government employee, said in Washington.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said that state funding would pay for the reopening Monday of the Statue of Liberty, which was among facilities affected by the shutdown.

Republicans have just a one-seat majority in the Senate, and therefore have to lure some Democrats to their side to get a 60-vote supermajority to bring the stopgap funding motion forward.

Highlighting the deep political polarisation, crowds estimated in the hundreds of thousands marched through major US cities on Saturday against the president and his policies and express support for women’s rights.

They gathered again on Sunday in Las Vegas, Nevada, chanting: “Power to the polls.”