US government shutdown looms as politicians fail to make a deal

Refusing to back down on his border wall funding demand, Trump says partial government shutdown may last for long time.

    US government shutdown looms as politicians fail to make a deal
    The US Capitol is seen in the face of a possible partial government shutdown in Washington, DC [Saul Loeb/AFP]

    What would a shutdown mean?

    • Departments affected: Homeland Security, Interior, Justice, State, Transportation, Treasury, among others
    • About 800,000 federal workers may be affected in some way
    • Workers affected may be furloughed or those deemed essential would be asked to work without pay

    The United States government was headed towards a partial shutdown at midnight on Friday after President Donald Trump's fellow Republicans in the Senate failed to muster the votes needed to approve $5bn he has demanded for a border wall fiercely opposed by Democrats.

    Trump said the impending shutdown of key parts of the federal government could last "a very long time". Democrats put the blame squarely on Trump for refusing to back down.

    The impending shutdown is the latest evidence of dysfunction in Washington and might not bode well for next year, when Democrats will have a stronger hand as they take control of the House of Representatives.

    "President Trump has thrown a temper tantrum and now has us careening towards a 'Trump shutdown' over Christmas," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor.

    "You're not getting the wall today, next week or on January 3rd, when Democrats take control of the House," Schumer added.

    Hours before the deadline, politicians met Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials in a last-ditch effort to find a compromise government funding bill acceptable to both political parties and Trump. But such efforts proved fruitless. 

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    Trump's refusal to cave in on Friday came despite indications from the White House earlier in the week that the administration had found an alternative way to get the money needed for the wall.

    In a series of early morning tweets on Friday, Trump lashed out at Senate Democrats, and encouraged Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, to attempt to change Senate rules, often called the "nuclear option", to get the funding through. Trump has previously said he would be "proud" to shut down the government "for border security".

    The House adjourned just before 7pm (00:00 GMT on Saturday) without approving government funding.

    By 8:30pm (01:30 GMT), the Senate had adjourned, guaranteeing a partial shutdown would begin at midnight (05:00 GMT) on Friday.  

    Negotiators had been discussing $1.6bn for a range of border security measures - not specifically for a wall - and retaining financial assistance for areas hit by natural disasters that were added by the House, according to a Republican Senate aide.

    That $1.6bn would have only been $300m more than the amount the Senate approved in a temporary funding bill it passed late on Wednesday.

    The negotiations ended on Friday, however, without a deal. 

    Senators are expected to return for talks on Saturday. 

    Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Marco Rubio expressed frustration with what they said was a shifting position by the White House. Rubio said that earlier in the week the Republicans went with their funding bill, which included $1.3bn for general border security but nothing specifically for a wall, because Pence had told them the White House was open to such a proposal.

    "We had a reasonable path and there was every indication from the president that he would sign it," Alexander said.

    Who will be affected?

    The possibility of a government shutdown fed investor anxieties that contributed to another bad day on Friday for US stocks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.82 percent, the S&P 500 lost 2.06 percent and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 2.99 percent.

    The showdown added to tensions in Washington as lawmakers also grappled with Trump's sudden move to pull troops from Syria, which prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign and furthered concerns over the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election that Trump won. 

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    Three-quarters of government programmes are fully funded through the end of the federal fiscal year next September 30, including those in the Defense Department, Labor Department and Health and Human Services. Funding for other agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, Justice Department and Agriculture Department, was set to expire at midnight on Friday.

    A partial government shutdown could begin with affected agencies limiting staff to those deemed "essential" to public safety. Such critical workers, including US border agents, and nonessential employees would not get paid until the dispute ends. National parks would also close unless the government declares them essential.

    More than half of the 1,700 people who work for the executive office of the president would be furloughed.

    Americans want Trump to compromise

    Trump's border wall was a key campaign promise in the 2016 election, when he said it would be paid for by Mexico, and sees it as a winning issue for his 2020 re-election campaign.

    But according to recent polling, most Americans want Trump to compromise on a border wall to avoid a possible shutdown. 

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    An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll found that more than half (57 percent) of Americans believe the president should compromise on the wall to avoid a government shutdown. About 37 percent said he should not.

    When examining just Republican responses, however, about two-thirds believe the president should not compromise.

    In another poll by CBS, about 59 percent of Americans oppose building a wall along the southern border. The poll from mid-November, however, showed that 79 percent of Republicans supported building the wall.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies