Sunday 8 December 2019

Deadline looms as US government heads for shutdown

It would be the first shutdown in five years.

The US government is heading towards shutdown (J. Scott Applewhire/AP)
The US government is heading towards shutdown (J. Scott Applewhire/AP)

By Zeke Miller, Andrew Taylor and Alan Fram, Associated Press

The US government careened toward a shutdown on Friday night in a chaotic close to Donald Trump’s first year as president, as Democrats and Republicans preemptively traded blame while still struggling to find some accord before a deadline at the stroke of midnight.

Politicians and Mr Trump’s White House mounted last-ditch negotiations to stave off what had come to appear as the inevitable, with the parties in stare-down mode over federal spending and proposals to protect some 700,000 younger immigrants from deportation.

After hours of negotiating, the Senate scheduled a late-night vote on a House-passed plan.

“Not looking good,” Mr Trump tweeted on Friday evening.

The election-year standoff marked a test of the president’s much vaunted deal-making skills — and of both parties’ political fortitude.

Republicans, who control both Congress and the White House, faced the prospect of being blamed for the display of dysfunction — just the fourth shutdown in a quarter-century.

It could also threaten to slow any Republican momentum, one month after passage of the party’s signature tax cut law.

Democrats, too, risked being labelled obstructionist. Republicans branded the confrontation a “Schumer shutdown” and argued that Democrats were harming fellow Americans to protect “illegal immigrants.”

Mr Trump summoned Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer to the White House on Friday afternoon in hopes of cutting a deal. But the two New Yorkers, who pride themselves on their negotiating abilities, emerged from the meeting at the White House without an agreement, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress continued to pass off responsibility.

“We made some progress, but we still have a good number of disagreements,” Mr Schumer said upon returning to Capitol Hill. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told CNN that “not much has changed” over the course of the day, but he predicted a deal would be reached by Monday, when most government offices are to reopen after the weekend.

Officials said the president has been working the phones trying to avert a shutdown. The president had been set to leave on Friday afternoon to attend a fundraiser at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate marking the one-year anniversary of his inauguration, but delayed his travel until at least Saturday.

“I think the president’s been very clear: he’s not leaving until this is finished,” Mr Mulvaney told reporters.

A shutdown would be the first since 2013, when tea party Republicans — in a strategy not unlike the one Mr Schumer is employing now — sought to use a must-pass funding bill to try to force then-President Barack Obama to delay implementation of his marquee health care law.

At the time, Mr Trump told Fox & Friends that the ultimate blame for a shutdown lies at the top. “I really think the pressure is on the president,” he said.

With no agreement by midnight, the government would begin immediately locking its doors. The impact would initially be spotty — since most agencies would be closed until Monday — but each party would be gambling the public would blame the other.

In the event of a shutdown, food inspections, federal law enforcement, airport security checks, and other vital services would continue, as would Social Security, other federal benefit programs and military operations.

PA Media

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