Senate Rejects Short-Term Spending Bill; Talks Continue as Shutdown Looms -- Update

By FeaturesDow Jones Newswires

The Senate rejected a one-month spending bill on Friday as lawmakers scrambled to avoid a shutdown of many government services on Saturday.

Senate leaders have held the vote open for more than an hour late Friday night as senators gather on the chamber's floor to discuss whether they could stitch together a last-minute deal. It was clear early that the bill didn't have the 60 votes it needed to clear a procedural hurdle.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) hasn't voted, and Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) was at home undergoing cancer treatment.

Entering the vote, lawmakers had no clear fallback plan for when funding runs out at midnight, but they have intensified discussions as the vote stretches on. Aides from both parties said they were discussing a stopgap spending bill of less than a month to avoid or limit a partial government shutdown on the first anniversary of President Donald Trump's inauguration Saturday.

The spending bill, approved by the House on Thursday largely with GOP votes, would have funded the government through Feb. 16.

In the Capitol on Friday, leaders mired in disputes over immigration and spending refused to take the first step toward preventing a shutdown without concessions from across the aisle.

"I think it is almost 100% likely the government will shut down for some period of time," said Rep. John Yarmuth (D., Ky.) after meeting with other members of House Democratic leadership before the vote. "Everything we see indicates there's no way to avoid a shutdown."

Lawmakers vowed to continue negotiations over the weekend, some holding out hope a resolution could be reached over the weekend and before normal business hours resume on Monday. Their disagreements range from the amounts to allocate for military and domestic spending to provisions, demanded by Democrats, aimed at providing protections to young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.

The measure failed despite intense negotiations throughout the day. In a last-ditch effort to strike a deal Friday, Mr. Trump had met in the early afternoon with Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the chamber's Democratic leader, and he called House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) later. Although Mr. Trump and Mr. Schumer said progress was made in their meeting, it failed to yield an immediate long-term agreement.

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.

Mr. Trump called it an "excellent preliminary meeting in Oval with @SenSchumer" in a tweet Friday evening, writing that they were "making progress."

But without any breakthrough on the immigration and spending issues that have stymied lawmakers for weeks, Washington prepared for the first major shutdown of a government controlled by one party.

A half-hour before the Senate was set to vote, Mr. Trump tweeted that averting a shutdown was "not looking good."

"Dems want a Shutdown in order to help diminish the great success of the Tax Cuts, and what they are doing for our booming economy," he wrote.

As the hours ticked down, 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.

"Apparently they believe that the issue of illegal immigration is more important than everything else, all of the government services people depend on," Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor Friday.

The immigration fight stretches back to 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, which needed their votes to clear the Senate, to secure legal protections for the Dreamers. Lawmakers from both parties have been meeting to hammer out a compromise but weren't able to reach one by the government-funding deadline.

"I do think both sides want a deal and it's going to happen," said Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, on Friday night. But he said lawmakers were "too far apart this time to get it done in the next 48 hours."

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 also 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 shutdown 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.

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."

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), who has been one of four lawmakers involved in immigration negotiations with the White House, blamed the bind on the president and the Republicans.

"We don't want to shut down this government. We want to solve the problems facing this government and this nation, and that means working together, something which Sen. McConnell has not engaged in," Mr. Durbin said.

--Rebecca Ballhaus and Louise Radnofsky 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 00:10 ET (05:10 GMT)

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