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US govt shutdown extended as crunch vote delayed

Key vote delayed again

WASHINGTON Hundreds of thousands of US federal employees stayed home without pay yesterday after lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on ending a government shutdown before the start of the working week.

Although leaders of President Donald Trump's Republican Party and the opposition Democrats said progress had been made in a weekend of talks, they pushed back a vote scheduled for 1am(2pm Singapore time) yesterday for another 11 hours.

After special weekend sessions of Congress that had seen bitter recriminations traded by both parties, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged to address Democrat concerns over key issues such as immigration reform in a speech to the chamber late on Sunday.

The Senate's top Democrat, Mr Chuck Schumer, responded by saying he was "happy to continue my discussion with the majority leader about reopening the government" but added that the parties had "yet to reach an agreement on a path forward".

Mr McConnell then called for Congress to reconvene for another vote on a stop-gap funding measure at noon, a proposal that was nodded through.

Mr Trump had encouraged the Senate's Republican leaders to invoke the "nuclear option" - a procedural manoeuvre to change the chamber's rules to allow passage of a budget by a simple majority of 51 votes to end the shutdown.

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But Senate leaders have been wary of such a move in the past, as it could come back to haunt them the next time the other party holds a majority.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Mr Trump had spoken during the day with Mr McConnell and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn.

She did not mention Mr Trump's speaking to any Democrats but said White House director of legislative affairs Marc Short had been in touch with members of both parties and updated Mr Trump.

At the heart of the dispute is the issue of undocumented immigration. Democrats have accused Republicans of poisoning chances of a deal and pandering to Mr Trump's populist base by refusing to back a programme that protects 700,000 Dreamers - undocumented immigrants who arrived as children - from deportation.

Democrats have refused to go along with the temporary federal funding request unless it addresses the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) scheme in part because they fear Republican leaders will not act to protect Daca recipients before deportations would begin in large numbers in March.

But in a signal to Democrats, Mr McConnell committed on the Senate floor to addressing immigration in timely fashion.

Essential federal services and military activity are continuing, but even active-duty troops will not be paid until a deal is reached to reopen the US government.

There have been four government shutdowns since 1990. In the last one, more than 800,000 government workers were put on temporary leave.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said state funding would pay for the reopening of the Statue of Liberty. The landmark was among the facilities affected by the shutdown.- AFP

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