New shutdown threat as US budget talks stall

WASHINGTON US budget talks have hit another impasse over immigration, a key Republican negotiator said on Sunday, raising the prospect of a second government shutdown if no agreement is reached by this week's deadline.

"I think the talks are stalled right now," Mr Richard Shelby, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said on Fox News Sunday.

The deadline for an agreement on funding to keep the government open is Friday, raising the spectre of a repeat of the 35-day partial shutdown that ended on Jan 25 - the longest in US history.

Negotiators had been optimistic an agreement would be reached that includes some funds for a border "barrier", although less than the US$5.6 billion (S$7.6 billion) US President Donald Trump has demanded.

Mr Shelby blamed Democrats for the latest snag, saying they wanted to cap the number of beds at immigration detention centres.

"Time is ticking away but we got some problems with the Democrats dealing with ICE," he said, referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Mr Trump himself, who hosted a rally of supporters on the Texas border at El Paso yesterday, said Democratic negotiators were being hamstrung by their party leadership.

"They are offering very little money for the desperately needed Border Wall & now, out of the blue, want a cap on convicted violent felons to be held in detention!", he tweeted.

He went on to suggest Democrats were ready to let talks collapse to distract from unfavourable headlines, including a racism scandal engulfing the party leadership in Virginia.

"I actually believe they want a Shutdown. They want a new subject!", Mr Trump said.

Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat, expressed cautious optimism that a government shutdown would be averted.

"We need to keep our eyes on this but I am very hopeful, not positive, but very hopeful we can come to an agreement," he said.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said a government shutdown is "still technically on the table." - AFP