U.S. Senate stumbles into 2nd shutdown
The government stumbled into a midnight shutdown Thursday as a rogue Senate Republican blocked a speedy vote on a massive, bipartisan, budget-busting spending deal, protesting the return of trillion-dollar deficits on the watch of Republicans controlling Washington.
A shutdown – technically a lapse in agency appropriations – became inevitable as GOP Sen. Rand Paul repeatedly held up votes on the budget plan, which is married to a six-week government-wide spending measure. The Senate recessed around 11 p.m. and reconvened just after midnight.
Paul was seeking a vote on reversing spending increases and refused to speed things up when he was denied.
“I ran for office because I was very critical of President Obama’s trillion-dollar deficits,” the Kentucky senator said. “Now we have Republicans hand in hand with Democrats offering us trillion-dollar deficits. I can’t, in all honesty, look the other way.”
While the government’s authority to spend some money expired at midnight, there weren’t likely to be many clear immediate effects. Essential personnel remain on the job regardless, and it appeared possible – if not likely – that the measure could pass both the Senate and House before most federal employees were due to report for work this morning.
If the measure passed in the wee hours of the morning, the government will open in the morning on schedule, said John Czwartacki, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, the agency responsible for coordinating any shutdown.
At the White House, there appeared to be little sense of concern. Aides closed shop early in the night, with no comment on the display on the Hill. The president did not tweet.
But frustrations were clear on both sides of the Capitol, where just hours earlier leaders had been optimistic that the budget deal was a sign they had left behind some of their chronic dysfunction.
Senate Democrats sparked a three-day partial government shutdown last month by filibustering a spending bill, seeking relief for “Dreamer” immigrants who have lived in the country illegally since they were children.
This time it was a Republican’s turn to throw a wrench in the works.
Paul brushed off pleas from his fellow Republicans, who billed the budget plan as an “emergency” measure needed for a depleted military.
“We will effectively shut down the federal government for no good reason,” said Sen. John Cornyn, as his requests to move to a vote were repeatedly rejected by Paul.
Paul was unfazed.
“I didn’t come up here to be part of somebody’s club. I didn’t come up here to be liked,” he said.
Approval of the measure in the Senate seemed assured – eventually – but the situation in the House remained dicey.
In that chamber, progressive Democrats and tea party Republicans opposed the measure, which contains roughly $400 billion in new spending for the Pentagon, domestic agencies, disaster relief and extending a host of health care provisions.
However, House GOP leaders said they were confident they had shored up support among conservatives for the measure, which would shower the Pentagon with money but add hundreds of billions of dollars to the nation’s $20 trillion-plus debt.
House Democratic leaders opposed the measure – arguing it should resolve the plight of Dreamers – but not with all their might.
The legislation doesn’t address immigration, though Republican Speaker Paul Ryan said again Thursday he was determined to bring an immigration bill to the floor this year — albeit only one that has President Donald Trump’s blessing.