US government in shutdown as senator blocks key vote
Republican Senator Rand Paul held up votes on the budget plan.
The US government has stumbled into a midnight shutdown as a rogue Senate Republican blocked a speedy vote on a massive, bipartisan, budget-busting spending deal, protesting the return of trillion-dollar deficits on the watch of Republicans controlling Washington.
A shutdown – technically a lapse in agency appropriations – became inevitable as Republican Senator Rand Paul repeatedly held up votes on the budget plan, which is married to a six-week government-wide spending measure. The Senate recessed around 11pm with plans to reconvene just after midnight.
Mr Paul was seeking a vote on reversing spending increases and refused to speed things up when he was denied.
“I ran for office because I was very critical of President Obama’s trillion-dollar deficits,” the Kentucky senator said. “Now we have Republicans hand in hand with Democrats offering us trillion-dollar deficits. I can’t in all honesty look the other way.”
While the US government’s authority to spend some money would expire at midnight, there were not likely to be many clear immediate effects. Essential personnel would remain on the job regardless, and it appeared possible – if not likely – that the measure could pass both the Senate and House before most federal employees were due to report for work.
If the measure passes in the wee hours of the morning, the government would open in the morning on schedule, said John Czwartacki, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, the agency responsible for coordinating any shutdown.
At the White House, there appeared to be little sense of concern. Aides closed shop early in the night, with no comment on the display on the Hill. The president did not tweet.
But frustrations were clear in both sides of the Capitol, where just hours earlier leaders had been optimistic that the budget deal was a sign they had left behind some of their chronic dysfunction.
Yes, I want a strong national defense. I believe it's actually the most important thing the federal government does. But you have to ask yourself whether a $20 trillion debt makes us a stronger country or a weaker country.— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) February 9, 2018
Senate Democrats sparked a three-day partial government shutdown last month by filibustering a spending bill, seeking relief for “Dreamer” immigrants who’ve lived in the country illegally since they were children. This time it was a Republican’s turn to throw a wrench in the works.
Mr Paul brushed off pleas from his fellow Republicans, who billed the budget plan as an “emergency” measure needed for a depleted military.
“We will effectively shut down the federal government for no good reason,” said Senator John Cornyn, as his requests to move to a vote were repeatedly rejected by Mr Paul.
Mr Paul was unfazed, saying: “I didn’t come up here to be part of somebody’s club. I didn’t come up here to be liked.”
Approval of the measure in the Senate seemed assured – eventually – but the situation in the House remained dicey. In that chamber, progressive Democrats and tea party Republicans opposed the measure, which contains roughly 400 billion dollars (£287 billion) in new spending for the Pentagon, domestic agencies, disaster relief and extending a host of health care provisions.
It is unacceptable that recent years’ funding cuts have left our troops undertrained and underequipped on the battlefield. Today’s vote gives us the chance to end this destructive cycle of funding our troops with short-term funding bills. https://t.co/FSlKVjnQ67— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) February 8, 2018
However, House Republican leaders said they were confident they had shored up support among conservatives for the measure, which would shower the Pentagon with money but add hundreds of billions of dollars to the nation’s 20 trillion dollar-plus debt.
House Democratic leaders opposed the measure – arguing it should resolve the plight of “Dreamers” – but not with all their might.
The legislation does not address immigration, though Republican Speaker Paul Ryan said again Thursday he was determined to bring an immigration bill to the floor this year — albeit only one that has President Donald Trump’s blessing.
House Republicans have been working to get our military the resources it needs to keep the peace for months. Learn more about how today’s vote on the bipartisan budget agreement achieves that goal soon→ https://t.co/RrNzrxPmYU— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) February 8, 2018
At a late afternoon meeting, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California made it plain she was not pressuring fellow Democrats to kill the bill, which is packed with money for party priorities such as infrastructure, combating opioid abuse and helping college students.
Still, it represented a bitter defeat for Democrats who followed a risky strategy to use the party’s leverage on the budget to address immigration and ended up scalded by last month’s three-day government shutdown. Protection for the “Dreamers” under former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme (DACA) expires next month.
Republicans were sheepish about the bushels of dollars for Democratic priorities and the return next year of one trillion dollar-plus deficits. But they pointed to money they have long sought for the Pentagon, which they say needs huge sums for readiness, training and weapons modernisation.
“It provides what the Pentagon needs to restore our military’s edge for years to come,” said Mr Ryan.
Beyond 300 billion dollars-worth (£215 billion) of record increases for the military and domestic programs, the agreement adds 89 billion dollars (£63 billion) in overdue disaster aid for hurricane-slammed Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, a politically charged increase in the government’s borrowing cap and a grab bag of health and tax provisions. There is also 16 billion dollars (£11 billion) to renew a slew of expired tax breaks that Congress seems unable to kill.