WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress, aiming to avoid a partial government shutdown at the end of this week, began advancing legislation on Wednesday to temporarily fund several federal agencies through Feb. 8, but without money for a U.S.-Mexico border wall that President Donald Trump demanded.
“We’ll soon take up a simple measure that will continue government funding into February so that we can continue this vital (border security) debate after the new Congress has convened” in January, said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
A Senate Democratic aide said the appropriations bill, which would keep the Department of Homeland Security and several other agencies operating on a temporary basis, was expected to pass the Senate either on Wednesday or Thursday.
The House of Representatives would then have to pass the bill and hope that Trump signs it into law, avoiding a shutdown because existing funding for the agencies will expire at midnight on Friday.
By postponing decisions on spending for the agencies that also includes the departments of Justice, Commerce, Interior and Agriculture, Democrats will be in a somewhat stronger bargaining position next year when they take majority control of the House.
Democrats and many Republicans have challenged the wisdom of giving Trump $5 billion this year, and ultimately a total of at least $24 billion, to build a wall that they argue would be less effective in securing the border than building on a mix of tools already in place.
In a last-ditch attempt to resolve the impasse this year, Trump and McConnell on Tuesday proposed giving Trump a $1 billion fund that he could use at his discretion for border security.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer labeled that a “slush fund” that would lack the votes to pass Congress.
On Wednesday, McConnell attacked Democrats for rejecting it, saying, “It seems like political spite for the president may be winning out over sensible policy.”
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bernadette Baum)