WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US Senate plans to pass an emergency short-term spending Bill as early as Wednesday (Dec 19) that averts a looming government shutdown, but excludes the US$5 billion (S$6.8 billion) that President Donald Trump sought for a United States-Mexico border wall.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the measure would fund normal government operations at current levels through Feb 8, avoiding a potentially crippling closure of some federal offices over next week’s coming Christmas holiday.
“We need the government to remain open for the American people. We need to wrap up our work for this year,” Mr McConnell told colleagues.
The Bill would need to pass the Senate and House of Representatives and be signed by Mr Trump, all before midnight on Friday when funding is set to expire for key agencies like the Department of Homeland Security.
Republican and Democratic leaders gave strong signals that the stopgap, known as a continuing resolution, would pass Congress and head to the President’s desk.
“Democrats will be ready to fully, responsibly fund our government in January, and we will support this continuing resolution,” said top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the likely new speaker of the House when Democrats reclaim the chamber’s majority early next year.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said his Democrats in the chamber would support it, and urged the President to sign on, “because shutting down the government over Christmas is a terrible idea”.
White House aides told US media that Mr Trump is inclined to sign the measure.
But it is seen as a defeat for the President, who had argued strenuously for US$5 billion in new funding for a wall that he insists would check illegal immigration.
Mr Trump essentially abandoned his position from last week, when he told Democrats he would be “proud” to shutter government over border security.
The six-week deal would temporarily break an impasse over spending and border security, as Democrats and Republicans continue to clash over immigration.
It comes a day after Democratic leaders rejected a longer-term Republican offer that would have increased border security.
Once Democrats take House control next month, they will be loathe to greenlight more money to Mr Trump for his wall.
The President has fumed about Democrats not giving in, and he ranted about it again on Wednesday.
“In our Country, so much money has been poured down the drain, for so many years, but when it comes to Border Security and the Military, the Democrats fight to the death,” he tweeted.
“We won on the Military, which is being completely rebuilt. One way or the other, we will win on the Wall!”
Mr McConnell’s pragmatic move belied his irritation over what he called “Democrats’ allergy to sensible immigration policies”.
“It seems like political spite for the president may be winning out over sensible policy,” he said.
Some congressional conservatives complained about Mr McConnell’s manoeuvre, including House Republican Mark Meadows, who said there was no excuse to back down on wall funding.
Punting the issue to Feb 8 gives Democrats a “Christmas present”, tweeted Mr Meadows, who chairs the far-right House Freedom Caucus.
“Democrats will win, the wall will not be built, and Congress will once again have punted when we should’ve been taking a stand.”
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