US government to shut down in fight over Trump's wall

Saturday, 2018-12-22 09:46:58
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The US Capitol is seen in Washington, DC . (Photo:AFP)
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The US government was to begin a partial shutdown at midnight on Friday (December 21) after Republican senators failed to muster the votes needed to approve US$5 billion that President Donald Trump wants for a border wall fiercely opposed by Democrats.

Trump said the impending shutdown of some key parts of the federal government could last "a very long time," and he sought to blame Democrats.

They, in turn, put the blame squarely on Trump, reminding him that last week he said he would be "proud" to shut the government down in order to get funding for a wall on the US border with Mexico.

Republican and Democratic senators earlier this week reached a deal on short-term funding legislation that did not include the US$5 billion Trump wants, but the president said on December 20 he would not sign it.

The impending shutdown was the latest evidence of dysfunction in Washington and does not bode well for next year, when Democrats will have a stronger hand as they take control of the House of Representatives.

"President Trump has thrown a temper tantrum and now has us careening towards a 'Trump shutdown' over Christmas," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor.

"You're not getting the wall today, next week or on January 3rd, when Democrats take control of the House," Schumer added.

Hours before the midnight deadline, lawmakers met with Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials in a last-ditch effort to find a compromise funding bill acceptable to both political parties and Trump.

But they were unable to reach a deal. The adjournment of the House just before 7 p.m. and the Senate just after 8 p.m. ensured a government shutdown.

Senators said talks would continue over the weekend. The Senate was set to return from recess at noon (1700 GMT) on Saturday (December 22).

Congressional funding for about one-quarter of the federal government's programs expires at midnight (0500 GMT).

Three-quarters of government programs are fully funded through next Sept. 30, including those in the Defense Department, Labor Department and Health and Human Services. But funding for other agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Justice and Agriculture, was set to expire at midnight on Friday.

A partial shutdown begins with affected agencies limiting staff to those deemed "essential" to public safety.

In a shutdown, critical workers -- including US border agents, and nonessential employees -- would not get paid until the dispute ends. National parks also would close unless the government declares them essential.

More than half of the 1,700 people who work for the executive office of the president would be "furloughed," meaning they would be put on temporary leave.