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Monday, 22 January 2018

Senate poised to break budget impasse, paving way for government to reopen

The Senate appeared poised to break its budget impasse on Monday as Democrats planned to join Republicans in voting for a short-term spending bill that would reopen the government and provide funding through Feb. 8.
The upper chamber was expected to quickly approve the bill, and House members were told to await a possible vote Monday afternoon, raising the possibility that the shutdown would end after just three days.
“We will vote today to reopen the government,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a speech on the Senate floor.
Democrats and some Republicans had been seeking ironclad assurances from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) of a vote on immigration policy in the coming weeks in exchange for reopening the government.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Sunday that he will open debate on immigration if Democrats help Republicans pass the Feb. 8 measure. On Monday morning, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said they wanted a firmer, more detailed commitment on behalf of a bipartisan group of senators.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walk to the Senate Chamber at the Capitol on January 21, 2018 in Washington, D.C. 
“It would be helpful if the language were a little bit stronger because the level of tension is so high,” Collins told reporters outside her office. She said McConnell deserves credit for his offer.
Graham said he and Flake plan to vote for the Feb. 8 spending bill, adding that McConnell’s language “can be firmer — will be.”
Other members of the group expressed hope that momentum for a deal was building. Some had called for the noon vote to be delayed to allow time for further negotiations.“I think a lot is going to happen in the next two hours — a lot of changes,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.).
Some had eyed the possibility of a breakthrough. A Republican aide involved in the talks said that McConnell and his team were considering putting their plan in document form with more detail as a way of convincing some Democrats to support the short-term bill.
Democrats said they were open to considering a written pledge but said the specifics would matter. “Trust but verify,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
As the impasse continued through the weekend, it was unclear whether the public would blame the Republicans, who control the White House and Congress, or Democrats, who sought protection for young undocumented immigrants as government agencies remain shuttered.
With the negotiations focused on the Senate, President Trump used Twitter to interject his opinion. Democrats are acting at the behest of their “far left base” in advocating for “dreamers,” he argued.“The Democrats are turning down services and security for citizens in favor of services and security for noncitizens. Not good!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The effects of the shutdown over the weekend were relatively limited: halting trash pickup on National Park Service property, canceling military reservists’ drill plans, switching off some government employees’ cellphones.
But the shutdown’s continuing into Monday means that hundreds of thousands of workers stayed home and key federal agencies were affected. Federal contractors will see payments delayed, and the Internal Revenue Service will slow its preparations for the coming tax season.
In a television interview, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) had called Democrats’ position “bizarre” and “just ridiculous.”
“We were in bipartisan, earnest, good-faith DACA negotiations before the shutdown,” Ryan said on “Fox & Friends,” referring to talks over how to resolve the status of immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.Sunday began with more of the partisan posturing that marked much of the previous week, delivered on the morning news programs, on the House and Senate floors, and in a presidential tweet.
Trump wrote that if the “stalemate continues,” then Republicans should use the “Nuclear Option” to rewrite Senate rules and try to pass a long-term spending bill with a simple majority rather than the 60 votes needed to pass most legislation — a notion Trump has previously floated to McConnell’s repeated dismissal.
The president otherwise remained uncharacteristically quiet, heeding the advice of senior advisers who argued that he has the upper hand over Schumer and the Democrats and that they would soon be forced to capitulate.
On the Senate floor, Schumer showed no signs of caving and kept pressure on Republicans.
“Not only do they not consult us, but they can’t even get on the same page with their own president,” he said.
As the clock ticked toward a scheduled 1 a.m. Monday vote — set by McConnell in part because of arcane Senate rules but later postponed — the moderates made the most visible progress toward a deal. Among the participants in the Collins meeting were a number of Democrats who are seeking reelection in states Trump won in 2016 — five of whom voted Friday against sparking the shutdown in the first place.
No firm proposal emerged from the meeting, but senators discussed a broad outline that could unlock a deal: modify the temporary spending bill now under consideration in the Senate to expire on Feb. 8, and then find some way to guarantee that immigration legislation moves forward in the interim.
The White House has said it supports the plan for funding through Feb. 8 but has been wary of making concessions on immigration. While legislation protecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients could probably move through the Senate with Democrats and a handful of Republicans supporting it, Trump has rejected proposals along those lines, and House GOP leaders are under fierce pressure not to bring up any bill that a majority of Republicans would reject.Other Republicans also saw little advantage in making any concessions to advance legislation that would provide protections for “dreamers” — 690,000 of whom face potential deportation after Trump canceled the DACA program.
Democrats said they made a significant concession over the weekend, agreeing to put major funding behind Trump’s promised border wall, something that has been anathema to liberals since the 2016 presidential election.
But the concession was rejected on two fronts. Doubts remained that the Democratic rank and file would agree to wall funding and Republicans questioned Schumer’s claim that he offered Trump precisely what he wanted.

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