Nation & World

Congress punts shutdown deal to at least next week

Effects start to spread even with most of government open

A security barricade is placed last Saturday in front of the U.S. Capitol on the first day of a partial federal government shutdown. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
A security barricade is placed last Saturday in front of the U.S. Capitol on the first day of a partial federal government shutdown. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

WASHINGTON — Congress effectively gave up Thursday trying to breaking the impasse over President Donald Trump’s demand for border-wall funding, all but ensuring the partial government shutdown will stretch at least until Democrats take control of the House next week.

The House and Senate convened for just minutes before gaveling closed. The halls of the Capitol largely were vacant, and leaders’ offices were shuttered. There was no sign that negotiations were taking place. Instead, the two sides traded recriminations.

Trump, in one of a series of Twitter attacks on Democrats, asserted the dispute isn’t even about the border wall he long has said Mexico would pay for. “This is only about the Dems not letting Donald Trump & the Republicans have a win,” he wrote.

Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, a Democrat who was denied on the House floor as he sought a vote Thursday to fund the government without money for a wall, said it was urgent to end the shutdown.

“The only people who don’t seem to be in any hurry are the Republican leadership and the president,” he said.

The country Thursday entered the sixth day of a partial government shutdown that has closed a quarter of the federal government and furloughed an estimated 350,000 workers, sending them home at risk of losing paychecks during the holiday season.

About 75 percent of the government was funded before the Oct. 1 start of the federal fiscal year. But Congress gave itself more time to fund the rest — now caught up in the impasse.

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Barring a surprise, this will become the second-longest shutdown of the decade when the new, divided Congress convenes next week.

“We have not been able to reach agreement, with regards to the leadership on both sides,” Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said after presiding over a pro forma session in the Senate that lasted less than four minutes.

Around the federal government, the effects were spreading even though the bulk of the government — including the Pentagon, the Health and Human Services Department and Congress itself — has been funded.

The Office of Personnel Management posted on Twitter templates for letters it said workers should use in negotiating deferred rent and payments to creditors.

“As we discussed, I am a Federal employee who has recently been furloughed due to a lack of funding of my agency. Because of this, my income has been severely cut and I am unable to pay the entire cost of my rent, along with my other expenses,” one of the sample letters says.

In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the National Flood Insurance Program would not issue new policies during the shutdown, a potential nightmare for homebuyers who need the insurance before closing. Lawmakers from both parties ripped the decision.

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Thursday, 47 percent of adults hold Trump responsible for the shutdown, while 33 percent blame Democrats in Congress and 7 percent blame congressional Republicans. The poll was conducted Dec. 21-25, mostly after the shutdown began.

The Senate will not return until the afternoon of Jan. 2, on the eve of the handover of power to Democrats in the House.

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That allows one last window to reopen the government before Democrats take control, in the unlikely event a deal is reached before then.

But Democrats have little incentive to compromise before they take control of the House and gain a lot more leverage.

Although Republicans will hold two more Senate seats than they’ve had, their narrow majority means they will still need some Democrats’ votes to pass legislation.

Yet Trump and his allies among House Republicans have their own reason to stand their ground: These last days of Republican control of all three legislative levers — the White House, House and Senate — are likely the president’s last chance to get the $5 billion he wants for a wall.

The Washington Post, Reuters and the Los Angeles Times contributed.

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