US Senate breaks budget impasse, paving way for government to reopen


January 22, 2018

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walk to the Senate Chamber at the Capitol on January 21, 2018 in Washington, D.C. – Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post

January 22, 2018

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walk to the Senate Chamber at the Capitol on January 21, 2018 in Washington, D.C. – Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post

Roughly 60 hours after the federal government first shut down, a bipartisan group of negotiators in the Senate reached a breakthrough to reopen the government by uniting Republican and Democratic leaders in an agreement on immigration and spending.

The Senate headed toward overwhelming passage of a short-term spending bill later in the day Monday after voting to end debate by a vote of 81-18. The House was then expected to pass the measure and send it to President Trump for his signature, laying the groundwork for the government to reopen by Monday evening.

The spending bill would fund the government through Feb. 8 and reauthorize the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years.

The resolution to the three-day shutdown exposed a growing rift among Democratic senators, several of whom were highly critical of their leaders' willingness to trust Republicans to bring up immigration legislation next month.

A majority of Democrats had forced the shutdown with demands for a vote on legislation to protect young undocumented immigrants known as "dreamers" from deportation. The final agreement did not include these protections, nor any specific guarantee of a vote.

"So long as the government remains open, it would be my intention to take up legislation here in the Senate that would address DACA, border security and related issues," McConnell said on the Senate floor Monday morning.

"This immigration debate will have a level playing field at the outset and an amendment process that is fair to all sides," he said.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned McConnell to keep his word.

"I expect the majority leader to fulfill his commitment to the Senate, to me and to the bipartisan group, and abide by this agreement. If he does not … he will have breached the trust of not only the Democratic senators, but members of his own party as well," Schumer said before the vote to end debate.

Democratic and independent senators who relented in the standoff said they trusted the bipartisan group of negotiators, including Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), to force McConnell to abide by his commitments.

But a group of liberal senators, some of whom are weighing runs for the presidency in 2020, said they did not hear anything new from McConnell that would give them confidence he would hold an immigration vote.

"I believe it's been a false choice that's been presented" between keeping the government open and resolving the DACA issue, said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who voted no. "I believe we can do both."

Senators who voted against the bill included Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), all considered possible White House contenders.

The Senate still must pass the final spending bill before sending it to the House.

The vote to end debate came together quickly midday Monday after Collins and several other senators said they wanted a firmer, more detailed commitment from McConnell about holding a vote on an immigration bill.

"It would be helpful if the language were a little bit stronger because the level of tension is so high," Collins told reporters outside her office.

A Republican aide involved in the talks said that McConnell and his team were considering putting their plan in document form with more detail as a way of convincing some Democrats to support the short-term bill.

As the impasse continued through the weekend, it was unclear whether the public would blame the Republicans, who control the White House and Congress, or Democrats, who sought protection for young undocumented immigrants as government agencies remain shuttered.

With the negotiations focused on the Senate, President Trump used Twitter to interject his opinion. Democrats are acting at the behest of their "far left base" in advocating for "dreamers," he argued.

"The Democrats are turning down services and security for citizens in favor of services and security for noncitizens. Not good!" Trump wrote on Twitter.

The effects of the shutdown over the weekend were relatively limited: halting trash pickup on National Park Service property, canceling military reservists' drill plans, switching off some government employees' cellphones.

But the shutdown's continuing into Monday means that hundreds of thousands of workers stayed home and key federal agencies were affected. Federal contractors will see payments delayed, and the Internal Revenue Service will slow its preparations for the coming tax season.

Sunday began with more of the partisan posturing that marked much of the previous week, delivered on the morning news programs, on the House and Senate floors, and in a presidential tweet.

Trump wrote that if the "stalemate continues," then Republicans should use the "Nuclear Option" to rewrite Senate rules and try to pass a long-term spending bill with a simple majority rather than the 60 votes needed to pass most legislation — a notion Trump has previously floated to McConnell's repeated dismissal.

The president otherwise remained uncharacteristically quiet, heeding the advice of senior advisers who argued that he has the upper hand over Schumer and the Democrats and that they would soon be forced to capitulate.

On the Senate floor, Schumer showed no signs of caving and kept pressure on Republicans.

"Not only do they not consult us, but they can't even get on the same page with their own president," he said.

Courtesy/Source: Washington Post