Foreign: Last-minute scramble to avoid US government shutdown

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Washington: Some American agencies have begun to prepare for a possible government shutdown this weekend, as Congressional Republicans struggled to find enough support for a short-term extension of government funding.

The regular operations of many American government agencies would cease if a shutdown occurred, and the workers sent home, with only “essential services” dealing with public safety and national security to continue.

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US President Donald Trump returns to the White House on Thursday as negotiators worked on a deal to avoid a government …

 

US President Donald Trump returns to the White House on Thursday as negotiators worked on a deal to avoid a government shutdown. Photo: Bloomberg
The legislation to avoid a shutdown at midnight on Friday was passed by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, but the bill to temporarily keep the lights on faces uncertain prospects in the Senate.

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If the shutdown does occur, it would be the fourth significant government shutdown in two decades and a political embarrassment for Trump, who was still sending mixed signals on the stopgap plan as negotiators worked on a deal.

 

Sending mixed signals: Donald Trump. Photo: Bloomberg
However, as the crisis unfolded it was revealed that President Donald Trump would throw a $100,000 per ticket ($A124,000) fundraising party at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

On a mostly partisan vote of 230-197, the Republican-controlled House approved stopgap funds on Thursday afternoon, local time.

But a mix of Democratic and Republican senators who oppose the House bill for varying reasons left the measure in a precarious spot for Friday’s vote.

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Republicans and Democrats are battling over a measure to protect from deportation more than 700,000 young immigrants known as “Dreamers” brought to the country illegally as children. They are mostly from Mexico and Central America.

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Ivanka Trump walks down the steps of Air Force One after accompanying her father President Donald Trump to Pennsylvania …
Ivanka Trump walks down the steps of Air Force One after accompanying her father President Donald Trump to Pennsylvania to promote his tax plan on Thursday. Photo: AP
Trump had earlier complicated the negotiations by reiterating the wall he promised would be built on the border with, and be paid for by, Mexico would be conditional to any immigration deal bundled with the funding bill.

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Taking to Twitter to contradict his Chief of Staff John Kelly who was reported as saying Trump’s concept of the wall had “evolved”, Trump said “The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it … The Wall will be paid for, directly or indirectly, or through longer term reimbursement, by Mexico, which has a ridiculous $71 billion dollar trade surplus with the US … If there is no Wall, there is no Deal!”.

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Chuck Schumer Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the bill “very likely to be unacceptable to the Senate”.
Chuck Schumer Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the bill “very likely to be unacceptable to the Senate”. Photo: Bloomberg
According to the New York Times and Washington Post, Kelly told Hispanic legislators during a meeting on the fate of Dreamers ton Wednesday that some of Trump’s immigration views during the campaign were “uninformed” and had now been “tempered” by him.

To try to get the stopgap funding bill through, Republicans had offered a sweetener a six-year extension of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program a Democratic priority. Trump complicated the talks by writing on twitter:: “CHIP should be part of a long-term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!”. The White House later said the President fully backed the proposal.

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Conservatives also had their pet projects to fund: house passage came only after they secured a promise from House Speaker Paul Ryan that he would soon advance some type of legislation to bolster US military readiness, said Republican Representative Mark Meadows, who heads the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Given the reservations in the Senate, it is unclear if the Trump administration can head off a weekend shutdown of the federal government, which is operating on its third temporary funding extension since the 2018 fiscal year began on October 1.

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Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, but most legislation, including spending bills or an immigration deal, requires 60 votes to pass the chamber.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is involved in the immigration negotiations, and conservative colleague Mike Rounds have said they will not vote for a short-term funding bill. Republican Senator Rand Paul, interviewed by Fox News, said: “I’ll be a no vote because I’m not going to vote to continue to put the country further into debt.”

Fellow Republican Senator John McCain, who is battling brain cancer, is not expected to return for the vote. Several Democrats, including Tim Kaine, Mark Warner and Patrick Leahy, have said they will vote against the resolution.

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Asked if Trump’s recent behaviour were making it more likely Republicans would be blamed for a shutdown, Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a frequent Trump critic, said simply: “Yes.”

As negotiations continued, it was revealed that President Donald Trump would mark the first anniversary of his inauguration on Saturday with a celebration at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, with tickets starting at $100,000 a pair.

That amount, according to the invitation, will pay for dinner and a photograph with the president. For $250,000, a couple can also take part in a roundtable meeting.

Trump told reporters in November that he had thought about having a celebration that month, a year after his victory over Hillary Clinton, but he was touring Asia at the time.

It’s unclear whether Trump’s plans to travel to Florida for the weekend would change if the government is shut down when funding runs out.

With the threat of a shutdown looming, some senators began to discuss the possibility of a series of short one- or two-day extensions to allow negotiations to continue without stopping government operations.

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“I think some of our members would like to see us negotiate the bigger deal and do a short-term CR for a few days,” Republican Senator John Thune said.

The most recent American government shutdown was a 17-day shutdown under former president Barack Obama in 2013 after Republicans refused to support a spending bill that included funds for Obamacare. There were also two shutdowns in late 1995 and early 1996 when Democratic President Bill Clinton clashed with Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich over funding priorities.

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Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer criticised Trump for taking a trip to Pennsylvania on Thursday to campaign for a Republican House candidate rather than staying for the negotiations. He said the House bill to fund the government was “very likely to be unacceptable to the Senate”.

Schumer said Trump’s changing positions on government spending and an immigration measure were impeding progress in Congress.

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“The one thing standing in our way is the unrelenting flow of chaos on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue [the White House]. It has reduced the Republicans to shambles. They don’t know who to negotiate with,” he said in a Senate floor speech the day before.

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