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.


Myanmar’s delaying tactics blocking Rohingya return: Bangladesh PM

Updated 32 min 1 sec ago
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Myanmar’s delaying tactics blocking Rohingya return: Bangladesh PM

  • Patience is growing thin with Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and its military that wields the “main power” there
  • Myanmar has said it is ready to take back the refugees and has built transit centers to house them initially on their return

NEW YORK: Bangladesh’s leader accused neighboring Myanmar of finding new excuses to delay the return of more than 700,000 Rohingya who were forced across the border over the past year, and said in an interview late Tuesday that under no circumstance would the refugees remain permanently in her already crowded country.
“I already have 160 million people in my country,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, when asked whether Bangladesh would be willing to walk back its policy against permanent integration. “I can’t take any other burden. I can’t take it. My country cannot bear.”
Hasina was speaking to Reuters in New York, where she is attending the annual United Nations meeting of world leaders.
The prime minister, who faces a national election in December, said she does not want to pick a fight with Myanmar over the refugees.
But she suggested patience is growing thin with Myanmar’s leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, and its military that she said wields the “main power” there.
Hasina has previously called on the international community to pressure Myanmar to implement the deal.
Calls to Myanmar’s government spokesman, Zaw Htay, went unanswered. He said recently that he will no longer answer media questions by phone, but will answer questions at a biweekly press conference.
Rohingya fled to refugee camps in Bangladesh after a bloody military campaign against the Muslim minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The two countries reached a deal in November to begin repatriation within two months, but it has not started, with stateless Rohingya still crossing the border into Bangladesh and the refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar.
“They agree everything, but unfortunately they don’t act, that is the problem,” Hasina said of Myanmar. “Everything is set but ... every time they try to find some new excuse,” she told Reuters.
Myanmar has said it is ready to take back the refugees and has built transit centers to house them initially on their return.
But it has complained that Bangladesh has not provided its officials with the correct forms. Bangladesh has rejected those claims and UN aid agencies say it is not yet safe for the refugees to return.
Given the delays, Bangladesh has been preparing new homes on a remote island called Bhasan Char, which rights groups have said could be subject to flooding. Cox’s Bazar is also vulnerable to flooding but this year’s monsoon season was light.
Hasina said building permanent structures for refugees on the mainland “is not at all a possibility (and) not acceptable” since they are Myanmar citizens and must return.
Rohingya regard themselves as native to Myanmar’s Rakhine state, but are widely considered interlopers by the country’s Buddhist majority and are denied citizenship.
Human rights groups and Rohingya activists have estimated thousands died in last year’s security crackdown, which was sparked by attacks by Rohingya insurgents on security forces in Rakhine in August 2017.
This week, a US government investigation reported that Myanmar’s military waged a planned, coordinated campaign of mass killings, gang rapes and other atrocities against the Rohingya.
Myanmar has rejected similar findings as “one-sided” and said it had conducted a legitimate counterinsurgency operation.
Ahead of December’s election, Hasina and her ruling Awami League have been on the defensive following student protests over an unregulated transport industry. The protest was triggered after a speeding bus killed two students in Dhaka.
However, the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has been in disarray after its leader and former prime minister, Khaleda Zia, was jailed for corruption in February — charges she says were part of a plot to keep her and her family out of politics.