Saturday, 20 January 2018

US shutdown begins as Senate fails to pass new budget

The US government has begun shutting down many of its services after the Senate failed to agree on a new budget.

A bill to fund the federal government until 16 February did not receive the required 60 votes amid a bitter dispute over immigration and border security.

It is the first shutdown ever to happen while the same party, the Republicans, controls Congress and the White House.

The impasse will affect hundreds of thousands of federal workers, and the recriminations have already begun.

President Donald Trump accused Democrats of putting politics above the interests of the American people.

But the leading Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, blamed the president, saying Trump had turned down two bipartisan compromise deals and "did not press his party in Congress".

The last government shutdown was in 2013, and lasted for 16 days.

On Saturday, many federal agencies are no longer open for business - although essential services will continue to run.

Most staff in the departments of housing, environment, education and commerce will stay at home. Half of workers in the treasury, health, defence and transportation departments will also not be going to work on Monday.

National parks and monuments could face closure, which provoked an angry public reaction during the 2013 shutdown.

Visa and passport processing could also be delayed.

But essential services that protect "life or human property" will continue, including national security, postal services, air traffic control, inpatient medical services, emergency outpatient medicine, disaster assistance, prisons, taxation and electricity generation.

A temporary spending bill was passed in the House of Representatives on Thursday night with 230 to 197, but a concurrent 60 votes were required in the Senate to advance a short-term spending bill to fund the government and avoid a shutdown.

However, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said: “The overwhelming number in our caucus have said they don’t like this deal and they believe if we kick the can down the road this time we’ll be back where we started from next time. So there’s very, very strong support not to go along with their deal.”

Consequently, the final vote in the Senate as at midnight ended 50 to 49, for and against respectively, short of the required 60 votes in order to break a filibuster, while Senator John McCain was absent.

The White House, in a statement by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders reacting to the government shutdown, said Senate Democrats owned the unfortunate event and blamed “obstructionist losers” for failing to reach a deal.

The statement read: “Senate Democrats own the Schumer Shutdown. Tonight, they put politics above our national security, military families, vulnerable children and our country’s ability to serve all Americans.

“We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands. This is the behaviour of obstructionist losers, not legislators.

“When Democrats start paying our armed forces and first responders we will reopen negotiations on immigration reform. During this politically manufactured Schumer Shutdown, the President and his Administration will fight for and protect the American people.”

Vice President Mike Pence in a statement also criticised the Democrats, saying: “Our administration worked in good faith to put a bipartisan deal on the table that would strengthen our borders, end chain migration, eliminate the visa lottery, and deal compassionately with DACA.

“But rather than solve problems, Democratic leadership preferred a shutdown that has dangerous consequences for our national defense.

“Their action tonight- or lack thereof- is unconscionable. Our administration will do everything within our power to support the brave men and women in uniform who stand on the frontlines of freedom.

“But as of tonight, due to a completely avoidable government shutdown, they’ll stand their post without pay.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also laid the shutdown at the Democrats’ feet, blasting Democrats from the Senate floor where he said the shutdown “was 100 per cent avoidable”.

McConnell asked: “What has their filibuster accomplished? What does it accomplish? The answer is simple. Their own government shutdown.

“I don’t think it makes the institution looks very responsible. The American people should expect better from us.”


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