WASHINGTON – Congress is closer to avoiding a government shutdown now that a bill to end a budget impasse has cleared the Senate and is likely to win approval in the House as early as Thursday.
But with a midnight Friday deadline fast approaching, it still is not clear whether President Donald Trump would sign the short-term funding measure.
Trump has insisted on $5 billion in funding for a wall along the nation’s southern border and boasted last week that he’d be “proud” to shut down the government if he doesn’t get it, even though he vowed while running for president that he’d make Mexico pay for the wall. The White House remained mum Wednesday on whether Trump would sign the legislation.
The bill, approved by voice vote in the Senate late Wednesday night, would fund nine federal departments and several smaller agencies at their current spending levels through Feb. 8.
Lawmakers agreed to punt a decision on border-wall funding until next year, making it unlikely that Trump will get the money since the House will be back under Democratic control.
On Thursday morning, Trump tweeted about his demands for funding a southern border wall but did not specifically comment on the Senate passage of the short-term funding bill to keep the government in business through early February.
“When I begrudgingly signed the Omnibus Bill, I was promised the Wall and Border Security by leadership. Would be done by end of year (NOW). It didn’t happen! We foolishly fight for Border Security for other countries – but not for our beloved U.S.A. Not good!” he wrote.
Republican congressional leaders, however, conceded that the short-term spending measure is the only way to avoid a government shutdown heading into the holidays.
“We don’t want to end this year the way we began it, with another government shutdown,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who pushed the temporary funding bill.
McConnell blasted Democrats for rejecting an earlier GOP proposal to end the budget standoff and for what he called “knee-jerk, partisan opposition” to Trump.
“It seems like political spite for the president may be winning out over sensible policy,” he said.
In supporting the short-term spending measure, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he was glad to see McConnell acknowledge that “the government should not shut down over the president’s demand for a wall.”
Before Wednesday night’s vote, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said House Democrats will back the Senate funding bill.
“This is a missed opportunity to pass full-year funding bills now,” she said. “However, Democrats will be ready to fully, responsibly fund our government in January.”
To avoid a shutdown, the House must pass and Trump must sign the short-term funding bill by midnight Friday, when one-quarter of the government will run out of money. Unless the funding is extended, nine departments and several smaller agencies will run out of money and will be forced to close their doors. As many as 800,000 federal employees would be placed on furlough or would be forced to work without pay.
At the White House, one of Trump’s senior advisers said Trump would consider signing a short-term funding measure. But she insisted he was not backing down on his campaign promise to build a border wall.
“The president has said he is willing to do what he has to do to get that border security, including a government shutdown,” Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, said on Fox News. But, “there are other ways for him to get that money and he said, one way or another, he will get the money for the border security.”
Trump himself took to Twitter earlier in the day to make the same argument.
“One way or the other, we will win on the Wall!” he wrote.
Lawmakers remained unsure if Trump would sign the funding bill even after Senate Republicans attended a luncheon with Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday afternoon.
“I don’t believe the leader (McConnell) would bring it up if he didn’t have some assurance that the president would sign the (bill), but you never know,” Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, said afterward.
Congress is scrambling to pass a short-term spending bill because lawmakers still haven’t passed seven of the 12 appropriations bills that are needed to fund the government for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
The seven remaining bills would fund nine departments – Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Interior, State, Transportation, Treasury and Housing and Urban Development – as well as several smaller agencies. Those are the departments and agencies that would be impacted by a government shutdown.
Late Wednesday, a group of hardline conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus railed against the short-term spending bill because it does not contain border wall funding. The lawmakers said they would offer an amendment to add $5 billion in wall funding to the bill when it comes to the House floor, and they urged Trump to veto the measure unless the money is included.
“We made a promise to the American people to secure the border,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Penn. “This is our last chance. Nancy Pelosi will not do this.”
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., said that while he would have preferred to pass all seven of the funding bills that have yet to be enacted into law, “there is still a broad ideological divide when it comes to our borders.”
A short-term funding bill gives the White House and lawmakers time “to come to a responsible compromise that puts the security of our nation first.,” he said.
Contributing: Eliza Collins and David Jackson
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