Shutdown begins after Paul pushes back Senate vote
The second government shutdown of 2018 began at midnight after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) repeatedly blocked the Senate from voting on a two-year budget agreement that includes an extension of federal funding.
The Senate is still expected to pass the bill early Friday morning and send it to the House, so the shutdown may only last a few hours. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had directed federal agencies to prepare for a lapse in funding.
Both the Senate and House had been working Thursday to pass the two-year budget deal to prevent the shutdown, the second in less than a month.
But Paul demanded a vote on an amendment to keep budget caps in place and refused to allow a procedural vote until he got it. Senate Republicans tried up until the midnight deadline to begin voting on the bill, but Paul would not relent. The Senate recessed after 11 p.m. without taking action.
“What you’re seeing is recklessness trying to be passed off as bipartisanship. …[Leadership is] holding hands, and there’s only one bad guy standing in the way. One guy that’s going to keep up here until three in the morning,” Paul said during a more than hourlong floor speech.
The budget package is expected to sail relatively smoothly through the Senate, when it comes up for a vote. The bill could have a more difficult path in the House, where opposition from fiscal conservatives and House Democrats could threaten passage.
The work on the funding legislation pushed into the early morning hours as Senate leadership tried and failed to make a deal with Paul.
They offered to let him raise a “budget point of order” on the budget caps, rather than a formal amendment. Both would have given him a roll call vote.
But when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tried to set up a vote for 6 p.m., Paul objected.
“Well, it’s up to Rand. We’ll vote at 1 a.m. or sooner, whenever he decides for us to move ahead,” McConnell told reporters as he left the Capitol
Under Senate rules, the earliest the chamber could take its first vote on the agreement was 1 a.m. Friday, after the funding deadline, unless every senator agreed to move it up.
Frustration mounted among Senate Republicans as the midnight deadline approached.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, warned Paul during a heated back-and-forth on the Senate floor that he would be to blame for shutting down the government. He tried to set up an initial vote on the budget deal at 10:30 p.m., 11 p.m. 11:30 p.m., midnight, 12:30 a.m. and 1 a.m., but Paul objected to each request.
“I don’t know why we are basically burning time here while the senator from Kentucky and others are sitting in the cloakroom wasting everybody’s time and inconveniencing the staff,” Cornyn said.
Cornyn added that Paul “will effectively shut down the federal government for no real reason.”
Paul has denied that he is trying to cause a temporary shutdown, but argued that his GOP colleagues are being hypocritical by pushing this bill after decrying deficit hikes under the Obama administration.
“Republicans howled to high heaven that President Obama was sending us into the gutter, spending us into oblivion and now Republicans are doing the same thing,” he said.
The House won’t hold a vote on the funding measure until it is approved by the Senate. A whip update sent out Thursday evening by Rep. Steve Scalise’s (R-La.) office said members should “prepare for late night or early morning votes.”
“At this point, we expect next votes in the House to occur at very roughly 3:00-6:00 a.m. However, there is a chance this timing window can move up if the Senate moves quickly,” Scalise’s office said.
The bill could face a rocky path in the House.
The conservative House Freedom Caucus, a gang of roughly 30 conservative members, announced that its official position would be to oppose the funding deal.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is expected to need help from House Democrats to pass the legislation, but they are demanding a commitment for an immigration vote.
After huddling in the Capitol basement Thursday evening, rank-and-file House Democrats appeared to be leaning heavily against supporting the budget deal, citing the absence of a commitment from Ryan to vote on legislation to protect the “Dreamers,” young immigrants brought to the country illegally as kids.
But Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) estimated that less than 40 Democrats would support the bill without that promise.
“They’re going to get to 175, 180, and they’re going to hit a ceiling,” Butterfield said. “And then Speaker Ryan is going to panic and then he’s got to make a decision whether to shut the vote down and let the government shut down, or make a very benign commitment — and that is to debate the DACA, the Dreamer bill.”
“If he were to call on our leaders in a few minutes and make it crystal clear that he is willing to entertain floor debate on DACA, then I think he’ll get the votes to pass it,” he added.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) Thursday evening had urged GOP leaders to cobble together a one-day spending bill to prevent the government from shutting down.
“With only hours to act and avoid another Trump shutdown, I urge Speaker Ryan and Leader McCarthy to bring to the Floor a one-day funding bill to keep the government open,” Hoyer said in a statement.
He said that none of his colleagues have been able to fully read the nearly 700-page budget bill, which was filed shortly before midnight on Wednesday.
“I have been asking all day. I have been asking all week for it. We could have literally had dozens of votes today. But we squabble because people don’t want to be put on the spot,” he said about his push to get an amendment vote.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) fired back: “I’ve read it.”
– This story was updated at 12:00 a.m.
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