US Senate passes funding bill in bid to end shutdown

Funding authority for most federal agencies expired on Thursday night without any intervening action by Congress. (Reuters)
Updated 09 February 2018
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US Senate passes funding bill in bid to end shutdown

WASHINGTON: The US Senate passed a critical stopgap spending bill early Friday as congressional leaders scrambled to minimize the effects of a government shutdown that began after an hours-long delay forced Congress to miss a midnight deadline.
The bipartisan measure, which passed 71 to 28 in the dead of night, was now headed to the House of Representatives for what is expected to be another pre-dawn Friday vote.
If it passes the House, and President Donald Trump signs the bill into law, it would restrict the nation’s second government shutdown in three weeks to just a matter of hours.
Federal operations were brought to a halt early Friday after Senator Rand Paul, a conservative in Trump’s own Republican Party, blocked a vote on a spending deal before a midnight deadline for extending government funding.
Trump’s administration was already preparing for a halt in operations.
The White House’s Office of Management and Budget “is currently preparing for a lapse in appropriations,” an OMB official said on condition of anonymity late Thursday, calling on lawmakers to get the measure to Trump’s desk “without delay.”
The bill, which includes a far-reaching deal that increases spending limits for the next two years and raises the federal debt ceiling until March 2019, would break the cycle of government funding crises in time for what is set to be a bruising campaign for November’s mid-term elections.
The rebellion that simmered among Republicans and Democrats over the budget agreement boiled over when a determined Paul brought the Senate’s work to a halt.
Moving legislation swiftly through the upper chamber of Congress requires consent by all 100 members, but Paul objected.
The Kentucky Republican took the floor to blast the increase in federal spending limits, and in particular the fiscal irresponsibility of his own party.
“I can’t in all good honesty and all good faith just look the other way because my party is now complicit in the deficits,” Paul said.
“If you’re against president (Barack) Obama’s deficits, but you’re for the Republican deficits, isn’t that the very definition of hypocrisy?” he boomed, adding that he wants his fellow lawmakers “to feel uncomfortable” over the impasse.
But top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer warned that the delay put lawmakers “in risky territory.”
A McConnell lieutenant, Senator John Cornyn, also fumed about Paul’s gambit.
“I don’t know why we are basically burning time here,” an exasperated Cornyn said. “We are in an emergency situation.”
But Paul refused to yield and allow an early vote, forcing a shutdown while highlighting his policy priorities about excessive government spending.
“I think this has been a very useful debate,” Paul said shortly before the vote.
The bill headed to the House, but its fate there is far from certain.
Fiscal conservatives in the lower chamber may join with Paul in balking at adding billions of dollars to the national debt two months after passing a $1.5 trillion tax cut package.
And liberal stalwarts including top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi were also in revolt because the deal does nothing to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a statement welcoming the Senate’s passage of the measure.
“Now it’s time for the House to do its job,” Ryan said.
The temporary spending bill under consideration incorporates the major budget deal reached between Senate leaders on both sides of the political aisle.
That agreement includes a $300 billion increase to both military and non-military spending limits for this year and 2019, and raises the debt until March 1 next year.
It also provides a massive $90 billion disaster relief package and funding to address the nationwide opioid abuse crisis.
Democrats have sought to link the federal funding debate to a permanent solution for hundreds of thousands of “Dreamer” immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.
Dreamers were shielded from deportation under the Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). But Trump ended the program last September, setting March 5 as a deadline for resolving the issue.
The White House’s current proposal — one that would put 1.8 million immigrants on a path to citizenship, but also boost border security, and dramatically curtail legal immigration — has been panned by Democrats.
Several bipartisan efforts have stalled.


Zimbabwe’s split opposition helping Mugabe’s successor to victory

Supporters of Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa sit, during the launch of the party's election manifesto in Harare, Thursday, June, 7, 2018. (AP)
Updated 18 June 2018
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Zimbabwe’s split opposition helping Mugabe’s successor to victory

  • Twenty-three candidates — the highest number in the country’s election history — are in the running for the presidential race after haggling over the allocation of parliamentary seats
  • In May the party held a so-called “healing session” to appease disgruntled members who had threatened to “donate” their votes to the opposition

HARARE: Zimbabwe’s divided opposition could bolster the long ruling party’s chances of victory after failing to forge a solid coalition for the country’s first elections without Robert Mugabe.
Twenty-three candidates — the highest number in the country’s election history — are in the running for the presidential race after haggling over the allocation of parliamentary seats, scuttling a plan by the opposition to form a united front in general elections due on July 30.
But the real battle is seen to be between the ruling Zanu-PF and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the party which has posed the most formidable challenge to Zanu-PF’s grip on power.
The main presidential candidates are Zanu-PF’s Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, who succeeded Mugabe after a brief military takeover last November and Nelson Chamisa, 40, who took over as leader of the MDC following the death of opposition veteran Morgan Tsvangirai in February.
“The unprecedented numbers of aspiring candidates is an indication of the opening of political space and an interest by Zimbabweans to take part in politics,” said Rushweat Mukundu, of Zimbabwe Democracy Institute.
Mnangagwa who took over from Mugabe, ending his nearly four-decade rule in which he presided over the country’s economic and political decline, has vowed to hold clean elections and break from past history of violence-tainted polls.
Zanu-PF “has created the impression that it has broken from its past of violent and contestable elections, hence the unprecedented numbers of those who have come out to contest,” said Harare-based independent analyst Alexander Rusero, adding many have no following “beyond their small cliques and the churches they attend.”
“At best this is counterfeit democracy,” which festers confusion among the opposition while Mnangagwa enjoys the benefit of incumbency.
Mnangagwa’s ruling Zanu-PF party, riven by factionalism which began as a battle over Mugabe’s succession, is also battling to stay together.

In May the party held a so-called “healing session” to appease disgruntled members who had threatened to “donate” their votes to the opposition, or stand as independents amid accusations of rigging and favoritism during primary elections.
“It’s not the number of candidates that’s worrying but the phenomenon of rebels who are insisting on standing without the blessing of their parties,” according to University of Zimbabwe’s Eldred Masunungure.
“This is going to have an impact on both Zanu-PF and the MDC Alliance.”
Some 5.6 million people are registered to vote in the election which has attracted the interest of many first-time voters desperate for change in a country ruled by Zanu-PF rule since independence from Britain in 1980.
“I was born under Zanu-PF and all I have known is poverty and suffering,” said Harare street vendor, Takudzwa Mutepeya “for us this is a vote for change.”
Mnangagwa has pledged to revive the country’s moribund economy which took a toll from years of misrule, and to mend fences with Zimbabwe’s former Western allies who severed ties over the Mugabe regime’s tainted human rights record.
Chamisa has said, if elected, he will create a $100-billion economy in a decade.

Other candidates include Mugabe’s former deputy Joice Mujuru, ex-cabinet minister Nkosana Moyo, Thokozani Khupe from a breakaway faction of the MDC, and musician and sculptor Taurai Mteki.
Businesswoman Violet Mariyacha, 61, returned home after 25 years in Britain, to join the presidential race.
“I could not continue watching my people suffering,” she told AFP. “I came to be the new face of Zimbabwe’s politics.”
Human rights activist and presidential candidate Lovemore Madhuku is in the election “to introduce an alternative voice. We are fed up with ... having two dominant parties that are simply doing nothing except fighting each other.”
Previous elections have been marred by violence, intimidation and charges of electoral fraud including stuffing of the electoral roll with phantom voters including long-deceased people.
In 2008 the then opposition leader Tsvangirai withdrew from a presidential run-off election citing the deaths of scores of his supporters.
The lead-up to the election has so far been calm. For the first time the state broadcaster covered the launch of the main opposition MDC’s manifesto live on television while police allowed a march calling for reforms including giving foreign-based citizens to right to vote without having to travel back home.