WASHINGTON — The federal government shut down at midnight Thursday after a Republican senator launched a one-man crusade against the soaring deficit by delaying votes on a $400 billion budget deal and short-term spending bill to keep agencies open.
Sen. Rand Paul refused to allow a vote on the expansive two-year budget package to go forward after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a fellow Kentucky Republican, would not grant his demand to consider an amendment to preserve spending caps to keep the deficit from growing to more than $1 trillion.
“I just can’t in all good honesty, in all good faith, just look the other way because my party is now complicit in the deficits,” Paul said on the Senate floor.
Republican leaders, however, hoped to end the shutdown, the second in less than a month, by Friday morning.
McConnell planned a series of Senate votes beginning at 1 a.m. to end Paul’s filibuster and approve with an expected bipartisan vote a stopgap bill to fund the government and an accompanying two-year defense and domestic spending deal and hurricane disaster aid.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) prepared for a quick vote as soon as the Senate passed the package, telling lawmakers to be prepared for votes between 3 and 6 a.m., though passage appeared to be a little less certain than in the Senate.
“There will be a vote on the budget agreement to keep the government open just as soon as it gets here from the Senate later tonight,” said Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong in an email.
The White House said it had begun to advise federal agencies to prepare for another shutdown. The last one lasted three days after Democrats blocked a stopgap bill as money ran out at midnight on Jan. 19. The bill that reopened the government set a new deadline of midnight Thursday.
On Tuesday, the House passed a six-week spending bill with a huge increase in military spending. In the Senate, McConnell attached the massive budget deal to the short-term spending measure, requiring that it go back to the House for its approval.
McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who both negotiated the budget deal to produce what Schumer called a “genuine breakthrough” in bipartisanship, urged Paul to make a point of order rather than demand a vote on his amendment. Paul refused.
Earlier in the day, McConnell and Schumer urged their members to support the bill.
“I am confident that no senator on either side of the aisle believes this is a perfect bill,” McConnell said. “But I’m also confident this is our best chance to begin rebuilding our military and make progress on issues directly affecting the American people.”
Schumer said, “It doesn’t include everything that Democrats want nor everything that Republicans want, but it is a good deal for the American people.”
The 652-page Senate plan sets $165 billion in extra military spending and $131 billion more for nonmilitary programs, including health, infrastructure, disaster relief and efforts to tackle the opioid crisis in the country. It adds $89 billion for hurricane disaster aid.
The massive bill is stuffed with policy and funding changes to lure votes from both parties, but it faces a revolt by conservatives opposed to its deficit hike and by liberals angry that it does not fix an expiring program for so-called Dreamers, or young immigrants brought here illegally as children.
Ryan, who backs the Senate agreement, said the House will pass the bill. “I think we will,” the House speaker told radio host Hugh Hewitt. “This is a bipartisan bill. It’s going to need bipartisan support. We are going to deliver our share of support.”
House Democrats, however, remained split on the bill because it decouples any legislation to authorize the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for Dreamers that President Donald Trump ordered to have expire on March 5.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she opposes the bill, but has not insisted that her members follow her lead, leaving them to vote their consciences.
She urged Ryan to make the promise that McConnell did with Democrats: to start a debate and legislative process with a neutral bill addressing the DACA program and other immigration changes, including border security, family reunification and the lottery visa.
To dramatize her anger at Ryan for refusing to make the promise, Pelosi held the floor for eight hours Wednesday as she sought to demonstrate her support for her party’s frustrated Hispanics and activists.
Ryan sought to reassure Democrats on that immigration legislation. “We will bring a solution to the floor, one that the president will sign,” Ryan said at a news conference. “We must pass this budget agreement first, though, so we can get on to that. So please know that we are committed to getting this done.”
But Ryan also will lose at least 20 to 40 votes from the conservative Republican Freedom Caucus, which Wednesday evening declared its opposition to the bill, as did several right-leaning advocacy groups.