EDGE OF THE CLIFF: Congress appears to be at an impasse with a government shutdown looming

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  • The federal government is set to shut down at midnight.
  • The House passed a short-term funding bill on Thursday, but Senate Democrats and a few Republican senators have signalled they may oppose the measure.
  • The two parties are blaming each other for the impending shutdown, with no clear solution in sight.

Congress on Friday began careening toward a partial shutdown of the federal government, as a funding bill appears stalled in the Senate with the two parties divided on key issues.

The Republican-led House on Thursday passed a short-term funding bill that would avoid a shutdown for another four weeks. But Senate Democrats and a handful of Republican senators have signalled they may oppose the measure. Because of Senate rules, such opposition would make it impossible to get through the chamber.

If no bill passes by midnight, the federal government will enter a partial shutdown affecting nonessential services, which would close national parks and cause services like the issuance of replacement Social Security cards to be halted.

(Read more about what happens in a shutdown┬╗)

Senate disagreement on key issues

The bulk of the resistance comes from Senate Democrats. They do not want to pass the short-term funding bill – known as a continuing resolution – because it does not contain an extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program, which is set to expire in March.

The DACA program protects from deportation roughly 700,000 unauthorised immigrants who entered the US as minors. President Donald Trump announced in September that he would end the Obama-era program but gave Congress six months to codify it.

Democrats worry that Republicans will not agree to make DACA permanent unless its codification is attached to must-pass legislation like the spending bill.

Some Republicans have also expressed concern with the short-term bill.

Sens. Lindsey Graham and Mike Lee have bristled at the idea of using another short-term fix, because they believe it does not adequately fund defence spending – and its short-term nature leaves the military in limbo. The senators point out that under a continuing resolution, the military cannot make many commitments to long-term projects such as the building of new ships.

Additionally, Sen. Rand Paul is generally against the short-term bill because of its projected impact on the federal deficit.

The bill needs 60 votes to clear a key procedural hurdle in the Senate, so even if every Republican were to vote for the bill – with the exception of Sen. John McCain, who is still receiving treatment in Arizona for a brain tumour – 10 Democrats must also be on board.

A senior Democratic aide told Business Insider that there were enough votes to prevent the bill from passing.

One possible solution to the impasse would come in passing a spending bill that lasts only a few days to give lawmakers time to reach a broader deal on DACA and spending caps.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted in support of an even shorter-term bill late Thursday.

“I support an idea floated by my @SenateGOP colleagues: pass a clean CR for a few days to give us a hard, final deadline & keep both sides at the table,” Schumer said. “We’ll reach a deal that fully funds our military & the opioid fight, CHIP, vets, pensions, disaster aid & protects Dreamers.”

Additionally, some Republicans advocated the idea on Thursday.

“I don’t know whether we’re close to an agreement or far from agreement, but either way this makes sense to keep the government funded and require us to continue negotiations until we reach a conclusion,” Sen. Jerry Moran told Business Insider.

GOP Sen. Thom Tillis said he was open to any solution that prevented a shutdown.

“I’m open to anything that actually gets us consensus on the CHIP program and a number of the other things that we’re doing,” he said, referring to the Children’s Health Insurance Program. “But I am absolutely not going to be a party to shutting down the government. It doesn’t make sense. There’s a lot of people at stake.”

Blame game

The stalemate in the Senate has also ignited early stages of the blame game, with each party pointing a finger at the other side.

Republicans are targeting the Senate Democrats, saying their unwillingness to compromise on immigration is the core problem preventing an agreement from happening.

“Now, it’s up to the Senate. Now will Senator Schumer and the Senate Democrats do the right thing by the American people, or will they force a government shutdown?” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement Thursday.

In fact, House Republicans have even started a website, Schumershutdown.com, to attack the Senate minority leader.

Democrats, on the other hand, say the GOP should have included them in their initial discussions, and they point to potential defectors in their own party as evidence the blame should not rest on their shoulders.

Trump weighs in

Trump weighed in on the impasse Friday morning on Twitter.

“Government Funding Bill past last night in the House of Representatives,” Trump tweeted. “Now Democrats are needed if it is to pass in the Senate – but they want illegal immigration and weak borders. Shutdown coming? We need more Republican victories in 2018!”

The rhetoric is typical of Trump’s argument over the past few days, but a good portion of the disagreement between the two parties stems from the president’s shifting position on a DACA deal and his profane comments during a bipartisan immigration meeting.

The White House said Trump would not depart for his resort at Mar-a-Lago in Florida until Congress passed legislation. That means the president risks missing a party in honour of the first anniversary of his inauguration, which will reportedly cost $US100,000 for a pair of guests.

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