Deadline Passes, Triggering Shutdown; Senate Rejects Short-Term Spending Bill -- Update

By FeaturesDow Jones Newswires

The Senate rejected a one-month spending bill early Saturday, triggering the shutdown of many government services and setting off a partisan fight over who would bear the political consequences.

In a dramatic night of failed negotiations, Senate leaders extended the vote on the House's short-term bill for more than an hour late Friday night as lawmakers attempted to strike a deal to avoid the shutdown. But efforts to agree to a stopgap measure floundered, leaving Congress with no way to avert the first major shutdown of a government under one party's control.

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The bill was blocked in a 50-49 vote, well short of the 60 votes it needed. Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) didn't vote because he was at home undergoing cancer treatment.

Five Democrats voted for the bill, which five Republicans opposed, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), so that he could bring it up for another vote later.

"What we have just witnessed on the floor was a cynical decision by Senate Democrats to shove aside millions of Americans for the sake of irresponsible political games," Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor after the vote.

After the vote, Mr. McConnell indicated he would take steps to set up a later vote on a three-week spending bill, keeping the government funded through Feb. 8. But Senate Democrats are currently opposed to it, leaving lawmakers with no path to reopen the government.

Although a handful of Republicans opposed the spending bill, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders blamed Democrats for the shutdown, saying "This is the behavior of obstructionist losers, not legislators." The partial government shutdown coincides with the first anniversary of President Donald Trump's inauguration on Saturday.

The shutdown marked the culmination of a fight that began in September, when Mr. Trump ended a program shielding the young illegal immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation. He gave Congress until March 5 to hash out a replacement. Democrats sought to use their leverage on the spending bill to secure legal protections for the Dreamers.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the chamber's Democratic leader, blamed the White House for the shutdown.

"The dynamic of the past few weeks, during which the congressional Republicans looked to the president for guidance and the president provided none, prevailed again today, unfortunately," Mr. Schumer said.

In a day-long scramble to avoid the shutdown that was due at midnight, Mr. Schumer worked Friday with Mr. Trump to reach a broader resolution over the immigration and spending issues that has paralyzed Capitol Hill. Over cheeseburgers at the White House, the two New Yorkers talked about the parameters of a far-ranging deal.

During the lunch, Mr. Schumer indicated he would be willing to provide more than the $1.6 billion for the construction of the border wall that the administration had initially requested for this year, in exchange for protections for Dreamers that would include a path to citizenship, according to someone familiar with the negotiations.

Mr. Schumer and Mr. Trump also talked about boosting military spending close to $700 billion, a top priority of Republicans. The meeting ended on a positive note, without any commitments, and Mr. Trump said he would talk to Republican leaders. But later in the day, Mr. Trump's tone changed and White House chief of staff John Kelly called Mr. Schumer to say the ideas under discussion were too liberal.

"What happened to that president" who was eager for a deal, Mr. Schumer asked on the Senate floor early Saturday morning. "He backed off at the first sign of pressure." The White House didn't immediately return a request for comment on the negotiations.

One senator briefed on the meeting between the president and Mr. Schumer said it didn't go well, putting the onus back on Congress to find a path forward. Another person familiar with the meeting said it wasn't contentious, but it made clear that neither side would budge.

On Friday night, senators disagreed over whether a stopgap measure should extend beyond Jan. 30, the date of the State of the Union address. They also couldn't reach an agreement over whether protections for the Dreamers should be included in a must-pass bill or considered separately, lawmakers and aides said.

Both chambers were expected to be in session Saturday, continuing discussions over how to resolve the underlying disputes over immigration and government funding.

Much of the government's work is expected to continue despite the shutdown, as the Trump administration aims to apply what senior administration officials called flexibility to shutdown rules that contain a variety of exceptions.

Social Security payments would be deposited as 53,000 workers for that agency stay on the job, as would Medicare reimbursements, because the payments don't rely on an annual appropriation. In addition, Mr. Trump's agencies aim to go further than previous shutdowns and existing plans on the book, keeping agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency open with unused funds, as well as national parks.

Mr. Trump's own activities, including planned travel to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, can continue under an exemption for activity required by the president to carry out his constitutional duties. However, the president's scheduled departure for his Florida resort on Friday afternoon was canceled.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis isn't halting a planned trip to Asia this weekend; the military will generally continue operations, as will the Department of Homeland Security under exceptions for essential activities.

The director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, said Friday that his agency intended a different approach from the one taken by the Obama administration in 2013.

"We are going to manage the shutdown differently; we are not going to weaponize it," Mr. Mulvaney said.

As the hours ticked down Friday, both parties worked to ensure any political fallout would fall on the other side of the aisle in a year when control of both chambers is up for grabs in the fall's midterm elections. Democrats stressed that Republicans control both chambers of Congress, as well as the White House.

"Their ability to govern is so tremendously in question right now," Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.) said.

Republicans chastised Democrats for derailing the spending bill in the Senate over an immigration debate that faces a later deadline.

Mr. Trump said in a tweet that Democrats had sought a shutdown "in order to help diminish the great success of the Tax Cuts, and what they are doing for our booming economy," referring to the tax overhaul passed last year.

Still, Republicans worried that their party would shoulder an unfair portion of the blame, given that they control both chambers of Congress and the White House.

"We can say the Democrats voted against" funding the government, said Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.). "On the other hand, we control everything."

Lawmakers said early Saturday they weren't sure how this shutdown would compare to the most recent one, in 2013, which lasted 16 full days.

"I cannot think of one that really compares to this," said Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the longest serving Democrat in the Senate. "We've never had an instance where the president changes his mind all the time, and then says we ought to have a good shutdown. I can't think of any president, Republican or Democrat, who wanted a shutdown."

Mr. Trump said on Twitter last May that a government shutdown might be needed to get his priorities through Congress.

--Siobhan Hughes, Louise Radnofsky and Rebecca Ballhaus contributed to this article.

Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com, Natalie Andrews at Natalie.Andrews@wsj.com and Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 20, 2018 02:31 ET (07:31 GMT)

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