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Senate to vote on funding bill, easing shutdown threat

By LISA MASCARO, MATTHEW DALY and CATHERINE LUCEY
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate is preparing to vote on Wednesday on a short-term proposal to fund the government through Feb. 8, a step that eases the risk of a shutdown and comes only after President Donald Trump backed off his demand for money for a border wall.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the quick turn of events, saying it was a “simple” bill and will show that Republicans, who have majority control of Congress, will finish the year by governing rather that prolonging  a difficult situation.

“Republicans will continue to fill our duty to govern,” McConnell said.

He also lashed out at Democrats, who are taking control of the House in January, for failing to give Trump any of the $5 billion the president wanted for the wall along the U.S. southern border with Mexico.

“This seems to be the reality of our political moment,” McConnell said. “It seems like political spite for the president may be winning out over sensible policy.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats would support the latest proposal. He said Democrats oppose Trump’s border demands because the wall is “inefficient” and because Trump promised on the campaign trail that Mexico would pay for the wall, which Mexico has refused to do.

“We want smart, effective border security,” Schumer said. “That’s not a wall.”

The swift movement in Congress came after Trump backed away from his demand. Trump has not said that he would sign a temporary-spending measure, but the White House counselor Kellyanne Conway  said on Wednesday “he’ll take a look at that certainly.”

On Twitter, Trump appeared to respond to criticism that he was backing down, insisting that “One way or the other, we will win on the Wall!”

Trump also argued that Mexico will pay “indirectly” for the wall because the terms of a new trade deal will boost U.S. revenue. But that outcome is not guaranteed.

Congress began moving on a funding bill after the White House seemed to move away from insistence on proposal to set aside money for a border wall. That position had given rise to  impasse that threatened to force a partial government shutdown. Without a resolution, more than 800,000 government workers could be furloughed or sent to work without pay beginning at midnight Friday, disrupting government operations days before Christmas.

Just last week, at a televised meeting at the White House, Trump said he would be “proud” to shut the government down over the wall.

But the White House showed its willingness to compromise as it became apparent the president would not have support in Congress to set aside $5 billion for the proposed border wall.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said Trump doesn’t want to shut down the government and said the administration was looking at ways to find the money elsewhere.

The stopgap measure would simply approve government funding at existing levels for the next several weeks, without a boost for the border. It also would include a temporary extension of a national flood-insurance program, the Violence Against Women Act and other measures.

Should the funding proposal become law, the fight over border-wall money would be punted to the new year and the next Congress, which, with Democrats in charge of the House, could prove even more difficult for Trump.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who is poised to become House speaker, will probably be able to approve a longer-term measure to keep government running in the new year. Pelosi and Schumer have made it clear they are not interested in funding Trump’s border wall.

Although the Senate is scheduled to vote Wednesday, the calendar in the House is uncertain. It’s also unclear how many House Republicans, with just a few weeks left in the majority before relinquishing power to House Democrats, will return to Washington this week for possible votes. The House was resuming Wednesday, and a vote is likely to take place on the spending plan in the days ahead.

Negotiations kicked into gear on Tuesday as the Senate’s top Republican and Democratic leaders began negotiating new proposals. During a meeting on Capitol Hill, McConnell had proposed $1.6 billion for border fencing, as well as an additional $1 billion that Trump could use for the proposed border wall.

Democratic leaders immediately spurned the proposal. They called it a “slush fund.”

“We cannot accept the offer they made of a billion-dollar slush fund for the president to implement his very wrong immigration policies,” Pelosi told reporters. “So that won’t happen.”

Democrats also rejected the administration’s idea of shifting money from other accounts to pay for Trump’s wall. Schumer said there will be no wall money, “plain and simple.”

The standoff could affect nine of 15 Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, State and Justice, as well as national parks and forests.

Congress did pass legislation to fund much of the government through the fiscal year, until Oct. 1. But a partial shutdown would still occur at midnight Friday for the remaining one-fourth of the government.

About half the workers would be forced to continue working without immediate pay. Others would be sent home. Congress often approves their pay retroactively, even if they were ordered to stay home.

Many agencies, including the Pentagon and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services, are already funded for the year and would continue to operate as usual. The U.S. Postal Service, busy delivering packages for the holiday season, wouldn’t be affected by any government shutdown because it’s an independent agency.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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