Congress aims for short government funding bill; no border wall

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress on Thursday steered toward preventing a partial federal shutdown with a temporary government funding bill that likely would extend into next year a fight with President Donald Trump over border security.

FILE PHOTO: Workers on the U.S. side, work on the border wall between Mexico and the U.S., as seen from Tijuana, Mexico, December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

In a late-night session on Wednesday, the Senate approved a bill to provide money to keep a series of programs operating through Feb. 8.

But with opposition to Trump’s wall too high of a hurdle, the Republican-controlled Senate defied the president by refusing to give him any of the $5 billion he demanded to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The House of Representatives is expected to act on the legislation later this week.

Congress faced a midnight Friday deadline for funneling money to finance federal law enforcement activities, airport security screenings, space exploration and farm programs, to name a few.

Failure to do so would trigger partial government shutdowns on Saturday.

But instead of resolving the budget impasse with a funding bill to keep several federal agencies operating through next September, the end of this fiscal year, the Senate approved only a seven-week extension of existing funds.

Democrats and several of Trump’s own Republicans have balked at money for a wall that the president argues would stop the illegal flow of immigrants and drugs into the United States.

The border security dispute stirred worries that Congress might fail to pass an appropriations bill for approximately 25 percent of government activities.

On Jan. 3, Democrats will take the reins in the House of Representatives from Republicans, making it even less likely that Trump will win money for a border wall that has become a centerpiece of his agenda.

“When House Democrats assume control in two weeks, my primary focus will be to pass reasonable spending legislation that does not fund President Trump’s wasteful wall,” said Representative Nita Lowey, who in 2019 will chair the House Appropriations Committee that writes government funding legislation.

Meantime, Trump administration officials were looking for ways to build the wall, which the president initially had pledged Mexico would pay for, by reassigning money already doled out to U.S. agencies for other projects.

Details of that effort have not been provided by the White House, but leading Democrats have warned that shifting funds around in that way would have to be approved by Congress.

Republican Representative Mark Meadows, the leader of a group of hard-right conservatives, told reporters that if this temporary spending bill is enacted, Republican candidates in 2020 will suffer.

“He (Trump) campaigned on the wall” in 2016, Meadows said. “It was the center of his campaign…the American people’s patience is running out,” he added.

Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Michael Perry

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