US government shuts down for second time in three weeks

The US government has shut down after Congress failed to vote on a budget agreement 

Senator Rand Paul(centre), takes a brief break from the floor of the US Senate to pose for a photo (Photo: Getty Images)
Senator Rand Paul(centre), takes a brief break from the floor of the US Senate to pose for a photo (Photo: Getty Images)

The US government has officially shut down for the second time this year, as Congress failed to meet a deadline to vote on a new budget.

Funding for the federal government lapsed at midnight  after Kentucky Republican Rand Paul stalled a Senate vote on a far-reaching budget agreement to fund the government through 22 March, while also eliminating caps on government spending and suspending the debt ceiling for the year.

The shutdown was expected to last only a few hours, giving the Senate and the House time to pass the 600-page, half-trillion dollar funding bill.

Talks are continuing, with the hope that the shutdown can be rescinded before work begins Friday.

The plan must be passed in the House of Representatives and signed by the president before the shutdown rescinds.

The Senate voted early on Friday morning, before sending the bill to the House. It approved the legislation by a bipartisan majority of 71-28, but Paul objected to the fact that the deal would result in a significant increase in the federal budget deficit without any corresponding cuts to spending.

He complained in an interview with Fox News: “I’m not advocating for shutting down the government.” Instead, Paul said: “I’m also not advocating for keeping the damn thing open and borrowing a million dollars a minute. This is reckless spending that is out of control.”

Stacks of pizzas were ordered in to Senators' offices in anticipation of a long night.

Stacks of pizzas were ordered in anticipation of a long night (Photo: BBC)
Stacks of pizzas were ordered in anticipation of a long night (Photo: BBC)

The federal Office of Personnel Management said government operations would "vary by agency" and employees should "refer to their home agency for guidance on reporting for duty".

CNN is reporting that if the shutdown is not averted, government agencies will still be able to call their employees in for a half day's work to make the shutdown go smoothly.

The budget spending plan

The 650-page spending plan was only unveiled on Wednesday night, so the finer details have not yet been revealed.

White House legislative affairs director Marc Short said the package would increase spending by "just shy" of $300bn, while the Washington Post puts the figure at half a trillion dollars.

The proposal would raise the US debt ceiling until March 2019.

Despite the support of their Senate leader Chuck Schumer, who says the budget accord will "break the long cycle of spending crises", some Democrats have complained that the bill does not address immigration.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi planned to oppose the bill, and despite suggesting that she would not pressure her colleagues to follow suit, appeared to be doing just that.

Pelosi is under immense pressure from immigration activists and progressive lawmakers to take a hardline for “dreamers”, the young undocumented immigrants who could lose protections from deportation under a program that Donald Trump has rescinded.

Democrats triggered a brief shutdown in January, and relented only after securing a promise from Majority leader Mitch McConnell to debate the issue on the Senate floor. 

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