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‘Very possible’ government shutdown could last into January

The US Capitol is seen during a partial shutdown on Sunday.
The US Capitol is seen during a partial shutdown on Sunday.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said Sunday the two-day-old government shutdown could last into 2019, as Republicans and Democrats remain at an impasse over President Trump’s demand for billions of dollars in border-wall funding.

The next possibility for votes in the House and Senate is on Dec. 27, as Democrats say they’re far apart in negotiations with the Trump administration. Congressional leaders have left Washington; Trump is spending Christmas at the White House.

“It’s very possible that the shutdown will go beyond the 28th and into the new Congress,” Mulvaney said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Although Trump originally wanted $5 billion for the wall, Mulvaney said the GOP is waiting to hear back about a counteroffer from Saturday to the approximately $1.3 billion that Democrats had previously offered for border security. He said the counteroffer is more than $1.6 billion, the amount Senate Democrats agreed to earlier in the year for border security.

“We’ve insisted on 5 for the discussions,” said Mulvaney, who is also the incoming acting White House chief of staff, in a separate appearance Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “Now we’re between $1.6 billion and 5.”

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The White House’s offer to Democrats on Saturday was $2.5 billion for border security, including new fencing and $400 million for Trump’s immigration priorities, according to a Democratic aide. The aide called the $400 million a “slush fund.”

The offer was made at the same time that administration officials were telling reporters on a conference call that Trump is insisting on $5 billion, creating a sense of confusion in the talks.

Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, warned on Saturday that the shutdown may not be resolved until early January, when her party takes control of the chamber.

“Until President Trump can publicly commit to a bipartisan resolution, there will be no agreement before January when the new House Democratic majority will swiftly pass legislation to re-open government,” the California lawmaker said in a letter to fellow Democrats.

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Vice President Mike Pence returned to the US Capitol on Saturday afternoon to make an offer to the chamber’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York. But after the meeting, a spokesman for Schumer said the two sides were far from an agreement.

“We’re still talking,” Pence said leaving Schumer’s office.

Both sides spent Saturday dug into their positions over the terms of reopening the nine government departments whose funding expired after Friday night.

“If you want to open the government, you must abandon the wall,” Schumer said on the Senate floor on Saturday.

But the Democrats, along with some Republicans, said they couldn’t support the $5 billion sought by Trump because they said a wall was an ineffective and inefficient method of securing the border.

A senior Trump administration official told reporters on the conference call that Democrats must accept physical barriers on the border as part of any deal. Trump would be willing to negotiate the type of barrier and restrictions on where construction could occur, the official said.

Trump earlier in the week scuttled an agreement that would have kept the government open through Feb. 8 after coming under heavy criticism from conservative talk show hosts and some allies in the House because the measure didn’t include the funding he wanted for the wall.

Ending the shutdown, which affects nine of 15 federal departments, dozens of agencies, and hundreds of thousands of workers, would also require the support of Pelosi, who is in line to become speaker on Jan. 3.

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Trump has stopped talking about a concrete wall in recent weeks and focused on building a more fence-like steel structure. A deal with Democrats could revolve around allowing funds to be used for that kind of structure.

This week’s blow-up over spending legislation was sudden. On Wednesday, the Senate easily passed a temporary spending measure without any money for the border wall after getting signals from the White House that Trump wouldn’t press the issue and trigger a shutdown. But after the outcry from conservatives, including talk show host Rush Limbaugh and commentator Ann Coulter, the House, at Trump’s insistence, amended it a day later to include $5 billion for the wall. That was unacceptable to Democrats, who have enough votes in the Senate to block the legislation.

On Friday, senators who had left town for the holidays were summoned back to Washington to vote on the plan as amended by the House. At first, GOP leaders in the chamber struggled to muster enough support for the House plan to move forward. That led to negotiations with the White House. The Senate eventually voted to begin debate but agreed to wait for a bipartisan agreement before moving any further.

Trump last week met with Pelosi and Schumer in front of television cameras and said he’d be proud to take responsibility for shutting down the government over border protection funding. But on Friday, he was blaming Democrats for the impasse.

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The nine departments shut as of Saturday represent about a quarter of the $1.24 trillion in government discretionary spending for fiscal year 2019. The remaining parts of the government, including the Defense Department and the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, were already funded and won’t be affected by the shutdown, nor will mandatory entitlement programs like Social Security payments.

The Department of Veterans Affairs will also not be affected, according to a statement from VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. The Department of Transportation would keep about two-thirds of its more than 50,000 employees on the job.

An estimated 400,000 federal employees will work without pay, and 350,000 will be furloughed, according to a congressional Democratic aide. The essential employees who work during a shutdown are paid retroactively when the government reopens and payroll operations resume. After previous shutdowns, Congress also has passed legislation to retroactively pay furloughed workers.