Tuesday 18 December 2018

Finger-pointing begins after US government shutdown

Social Security and most other safety net programmes are unaffected by the lapse in federal spending authority.

The shutdown could cripple American public services (AP)
The shutdown could cripple American public services (AP)

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

Bickering politicians in Washington have failed to keep their government in business, halting all but the most essential operations and marring the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

It was a striking display of Washington dysfunction, and the finger-pointing came quickly.

President Trump tweeted that Democrats “wanted to give me a nice present” to mark the start of his second year in office.

The Republican-controlled Congress scheduled an unusual weekend session to begin considering a three-week version of a short-term spending measure and to broadcast to the people they serve that they were at work as the closure commenced.

It seemed likely that each side would push for votes aimed at making the other party look culpable for shuttering federal agencies.

The fourth government shutdown in quarter of a century began at the stroke of midnight on Friday, last gasp negotiations crumbling when Senate Democrats blocked a four-week budget extension.

Behind the scenes, however, leading Republicans and Democrats were trying to work out a compromise to avert a lengthy shutdown.

The closure began at the start of a weekend, so many of the immediate effects will be muted for most Americans.

Damage could build quickly if the closure is prolonged. And it comes with no shortage of embarrassment for the president and political risk for both parties, as they wager that voters will punish the other at the ballot box in November.

President Trump said Democrats “could have easily made a deal but decided to play Shutdown politics instead.”

In a series of tweets hours after the shutdown began, the president tried to make the case for Americans to elect more Republicans in November “in order to power through this mess”.

He noted that there are 51 Republicans in the 100-member Senate, and it often takes 60 votes to advance legislation.

Social Security and most other safety net programmes are unaffected by the lapse in federal spending authority. Critical government functions will continue, with uniformed service members, health inspectors and law enforcement officers set to work without pay.

But if no deal is brokered before Monday, hundreds of thousands of federal employees will be put on hold.

After hours of closed-door meetings and phone calls, the Senate scheduled its late Friday night vote on a House-passed plan. It gained 50 votes to proceed to 49 against, but 60 were needed to break a Democratic filibuster.

Democrats are laying fault for the shutdown on Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress and the White House and have struggled with building internal consensus.

Republicans are holding Democrats responsible after they declined to provide the votes needed to overcome a filibuster over their desire to force the passage of legislation to protect some 700,000 younger immigrants from deportation.

Press Association

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