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Tag: government shutdown

House Approves Ukraine Aid, Russia Oil Ban, Averts Federal Shutdown

By Richard Cowan and Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to rush $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine as it battles invading Russian forces, along with $1.5 trillion to keep U.S. government programs operating through Sept. 30 and avoid agency shutdowns this weekend.

The House approved the wide-ranging appropriations in bipartisan votes, sending the legislation to the Senate which aims to act by a midnight Friday deadline when existing U.S. government funds expire.

The aid for Ukraine is intended to help bolster its military as it battles Russian forces and provide humanitarian assistance to citizens, including an estimated 1.5 million refugees already seeking safety abroad.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated that the $13.6 billion is likely to be just the tip of a much broader aid effort.

"All of us will have to do more" to help Ukraine in coming weeks or months and over the long-term to help it rebuild, Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference.

She was mainly referring to the United States and its NATO allies.

The House also passed legislation, by a vote of 414-17 to ban U.S. imports of Russian oil and other energy in response to its attack on Ukraine. Fifteen Republicans and two Democrats opposed the measure.

Passage of the bill came one day after President Joe Biden used his executive powers to impose such a ban. The House measure put lawmakers on record as firmly supporting the U.S. trade ban. It also calls for reviewing Russia's participation in some international trade programs, such as the World Trade Organization.

Lawmakers abandoned an effort to attach language revoking Russia's permanent normal trade relations status, which would have allowed the United States to raise tariffs on Russian imports above levels afforded all WTO members.

The U.S. government funding bill passed following a revolt from Pelosi's own Democrats who objected to a $15.6 billion COVID-19 aid initiative because of the way it would have parceled out money to individual states. The money was to be used for research and to stockpile vaccines for possible future spikes in COVID-19 infections.

Following hours of delay, Pelosi had the provision deleted to clear the way for quick passage of the Ukraine money and the "omnibus" $1.5 trillion in federal funding.

Democrats hope to revisit the COVID aid next week in separate legislation.

'Desperate Hour'

The huge government spending bill is the first to reflect Democrats' spending priorities under President Joe Biden, following four years of the Trump administration.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro said it increases non-defense domestic spending by 6.7% over last year, the largest rise in four years.

The Ukraine aid package, DeLauro said, would "help the Ukrainian people in their most desperate hour of need."

Republicans also applauded the measure - a rare display of bipartisanship in the deeply divided Congress.

"We must get this bill to the president's desk as soon as possible to respond to these acts of aggression," said Ken Calvert, the top Republican on the defense subcommittee of the appropriations panel.

He was referring to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and specifically the bombing of a hospital earlier on Wednesday. Failure, he added, "would undoubtedly demonstrate weakness on a global scale."

With money for the federal government due to run out at midnight on Friday, the Democratic-controlled House also unanimously approved a separate measure to keep the government funded through Tuesday.

This was seen mainly as a housekeeping step so that congressional clerks would have enough time to process the sprawling omnibus bill following House and Senate passage. That clerical work could extend beyond the midnight Friday deadline.

Acting White House budget director Shalanda Young urged Congress to promptly approve the Ukraine aid and government funding measure and send it to Biden for signing into law.

"The bipartisan funding bill is proof that both parties can come together to deliver for the American people and advance critical national priorities," Young said in a statement.

The omnibus spending plan will boost funding for domestic priorities, including money for infrastructure passed under an earlier bipartisan measure to revamp U.S. roads, bridges and broadband internet.

The plan includes $730 billion in non-defense funding and $782 billion for the U.S. military.

Amid fears that Russia and other "bad actors" could wage cyber attacks against U.S. infrastructure, the government funding bill increases the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency budget by $568.7 million for a total of $2.6 billion for this fiscal year.

In its continuing attempt to unravel the Trump administration's "Remain in Mexico" immigration policy, the bill provided no additional money for immigration hearing facilities that support the program, which forced tens of thousands of migrants to wait in Mexico pending resolution of their U.S. asylum cases.

(Reporting by David Morgan, Makini Brice, Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey, additional reporting by Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru; Editing by Scott Malone, Doina Chiacu, Jonathan Oatis and Bernard Orr)

Congress Averts Government Shutdown One Day Before Deadline

Washington (AFP) - The US Congress approved a stopgap funding bill Thursday in a rare show of cross-party unity to keep federal agencies running into 2022 and avert a costly holiday season government shutdown.

With the clock ticking down to the 11:59 pm Friday deadline, the Senate voted by 69 to 28 to keep the lights on until February 18 with a resolution that had already advanced from the House.

The "continuing resolution" avoids millions of public workers being sent home unpaid with Christmas approaching, as parks, museums and other federal properties and services closed.

"I am glad that, in the end, cooler heads prevailed -- the government will stay open," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

"And I thank the members of this chamber for walking us back from the brink of an avoidable, needless and costly shutdown."

Congress watchers had expected to see the resolution getting a rough ride in the Senate, where a small group of hardline Republicans threatened to tank the measure in protest over the White House's pandemic response.

But Democrats agreed to allow a straight majority vote on defunding President Joe Biden's vaccine-or-testing mandate for large companies, which promptly failed as expected.

The right-wing Republican group, led by Utah's senior senator Mike Lee, argues that the mandate is an assault on personal liberty.

780,000 Dead

The pandemic has killed more than 780,000 people in the United States and the troubling new Omicron variant of the coronavirus has raised fears of a winter surge in cases.

But legal challenges have mounted against Biden's edict requiring vaccination or weekly tests for some sections of the US workforce, including companies with more than 100 employees.

Lee had campaigned to remove federal funding to implement the mandate and was backed by right wingers in both chambers.

"If the choice is between temporarily suspending non-essential functions on the one hand and, on the other hand, standing idle as up to 45 million Americans lose their jobs, their livelihoods, and their ability to work, I'll stand with American workers every time," he said.

The figure Lee cited would represent more than a quarter of the 157 million people that make up the US workforce, according to the Pew Research Center.

Only five percent of unvaccinated adults say they have left a job due to a vaccine mandate, according to an October survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In the evenly divided upper chamber, any single senator can torpedo any vote.

But the majority of Senate Republicans -- including their leader Mitch McConnell -- were against the move, fearing they would be blamed for a shutdown.

Ahead of the House vote McConnell had indicated that Republicans would support the continuing resolution, although he gave no indication that he bring Lee and the other hold-outs to heel.

Deadlocked

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the most senior Democrat in the House of Representatives, earlier hit out at Lee and his backers, accusing them of "defiance of science and public health."

If Congress had failed to keep the government open, the closures would have begun just after midnight on Saturday and would likely have bled into the following week.

There has never been a shutdown during a national emergency such as the pandemic, but the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the 2018-19 stoppage wiped $11 billion from the economy.

The stopgap measure buys legislators time to negotiate full-year spending bills for the rest of fiscal 2022.

And with the threat of a shutdown off the table, Democratic leadership is now free to focus on passing Biden's domestic agenda -- a $1.8 trillion social welfare and climate spending plan.

The bill is central to Biden's legacy, but risks failing because of feuding between the Democrats' progressive and centrist factions.

Lawmakers are also deadlocked over the prospect of a first-ever US debt default that would erase an estimated six million jobs and wipe out $15 trillion of household wealth, tanking the economy.

The government is likely to run out of cash on or soon after December 15, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned, unless Congress raises the federal borrowing cap.

But Republicans say they won't help, despite having pressed for hikes under former president Donald Trump, because they want no part in the Democrats' historically large package of social reforms.

Senate Republicans Vote To Shut Government And Crash Economy

A report released by Moody's Analytics on September 21 warns that failure to raise the ceiling on the U.S. national debt and to renew the spending authority of the U.S. Treasury when it expires on September 30 will lead to a default that "would be a catastrophic blow to the nascent economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic."

Senate Republicans on Monday night blocked the bill that would fund the government and raise the debt ceiling, bringing the United States to the brink of both a government shutdown and an economic recession.

Not a single Republican voted to advance the funding bill, which had passed the House a week ago and would prevent the government from shutting down at the end of Thursday, when the current funding bill expires.

The country will reach the ceiling on its ability to borrow to pay its debts in early October. If it isn't raised, the country will default, sending it into an economic tailspin that Moody's said would cost 6 million jobs and $15 trillion in household wealth.

The report said that a default would particularly hurt the U.S. bond market, generally considered a relatively safe place to invest for retirement.

Treasury bonds are basically loans to the government made by investors that are paid back by a specified date; a default would mean the loans are not repaid on time. "Americans would pay for this default for generations, as global investors would rightly believe that the federal government's finances have been politicized and that a time may come when they would not be paid what they are owed when owed it. To compensate for this risk, they will demand higher interest rates on the Treasury bonds they purchase. That will exacerbate our daunting long-term fiscal challenges and be a lasting corrosive on the economy, significantly diminishing it."

The report said a potential default would be "cataclysmic":

Stock prices would be cut almost in one-third at the worst of the selloff, wiping out $15 trillion in household wealth. Treasury yields, mortgage rates, and other consumer and corporate borrowing rates spike, at least until the debt limit is resolved and Treasury payments resume. Even then, rates never fall back to where they were previously. Since U.S. Treasury securities no longer would be risk free, future generations of Americans would pay a steep economic price.

Democrats slammed their GOP colleagues, with Rep. Adam Schiff of California calling their refusal to close debate on the legislation and move to a vote on it before the deadline "craven."

"Every single McConnell Republican just voted to blow up the entire economy and start a depression for no reason except because the President is a Democrat," Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) tweeted.

"Mitch McConnell just 2 years ago: 'America can't default. That would be a disaster.' Now he's flirting with that disaster because he thinks it'll notch him a political win," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) tweeted.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said when Donald Trump was in the White House that not raising the debt ceiling would be catastrophic.

But now that President Joe Biden is in office and Democrats control both chambers of Congress, McConnell is refusing to provide any Republican votes, saying Democrats have to do it on their own with a more complicated procedural maneuver.

"We will support a clean continuing resolution that will prevent a government shutdown," McConnell said Monday. "We will not provide Republican votes for raising the debt limit."

Congress raised the debt ceiling three times on a bipartisan basis when Trump was president and McConnell served as Senate majority leader.

"Note that Democrats never filibustered the debt limit under Bush and actually provided most of the votes for cloture under Trump," Seth Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, tweeted. "What McConnell is doing now is unprecedented, disgraceful, and dangerous."

Republican members are claiming that they don't want to raise the debt ceiling because Democrats are working to pass Biden's economic plan, which would provide funding for infrastructure such as roads and bridges, paid family leave, child care, and added dental and vision benefits under Medicare.

But the raising the debt ceiling means enabling payments on the debt the United States has already accrued, not on future spending. While Trump was in office, Republicans helped add $7.8 trillion to the national debt, the third biggest increase as a share of the size of the economy under any president in U.S. history, the Washington Post reported.

It's unclear what will happen next, as Republicans bring the economy to the brink.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted on Monday night, "The full faith & credit of the United States should not be political. Republicans' reckless decision to block government funding & raising the debt ceiling threatens 6 million jobs, financial ruin for countless families, military paychecks & Social Security payments to seniors."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Desperate Millions Await Covid Relief While Trump Golfs With Graham

Reprinted with permission Alternet

Donald Trump is spending his final Christmas as President at his Palm Beach golf club with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), while millions of starving Americans unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic desperately wait to see if he will sign the COVID-19 relief bill.

Trump's failure to sign the legislation by the end of Saturday meant that 14 million people lost unemployment benefits -- and the $600 checks promised to most Americans by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will not be sent. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin had promised the checks would be in the mail, or paid via direct deposit, this coming week.

"Trump heads off for golf on Christmas Day with Lindsey Graham as president complains stimulus bill flown to Mar-a-Lago contains too much 'pork' after he demanded Congress give Americans $2K checks," is the headline over at the Daily Mail.

There's video (below) of Trump with Graham in the presidential limo, which arrived at Trump's golf resort at 9:57 AM. Trump left the club at 2:05 PM.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had immediately rushed to support Trump's call for the $600 checks to be bumped up to $2000, which Democrats had been pushing for for months. Republicans in the House and Senate quickly killed the move.

"Families on brink of eviction, hunger describe nightmare Christmas as $900 billion relief bill hangs in limbo," The Washington Post reported late Christmas Eve.

There are massive repercussions if Trump either vetoes the bill, which he has repeatedly threatened to do, or issues a "pocket veto," meaning he allows it to expire without his signature, effectively vetoing it.

The federal government will shut down at midnight Monday if Trump does not sign the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual funding bill. Trump is demanding the legislation include an amendment voiding Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. He thinks if that portion of the CDA is gone social media companies will be forced to remove content critical of him. In reality they would likely shut down his social media accounts for spreading false information they would then be held liable for.

"Maybe nothing better could be expected in a year that saw denial and delusion, led by President Donald Trump, presage a wave of illness and death coupled with evictions, bankruptcies, hunger and ruined livelihoods," CNN's Kevin Liptak wrote Christmas Day.

Here's Trump and Graham earlier today:

Video: President Trump heads off for game of golf on Christmas Day | Daily Mail Online

President Donald Trump heads off for another game of golf in Palm Beach after throwing Washington into chaos in his final days in office.

If Only Boss Putin Would Order Trump To End Shutdown

So the world’s greatest negotiator has taken 800,000 hostages and threatens to shoot himself in the foot unless he gets his wall. Too bad the Democrats can’t subcontract the job of confronting his demands to Vladimir Putin. Faced with the Russian dictator, our bold leader rolls over on his back like a puppy dog.
Furthermore, Trump’s been doing it for years. And lying his big, flabby posterior off about it the whole time. For all intents and purposes, the President of the United States is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the organized crime syndicate otherwise known as the Russian government.
In Moscow, they call them “oligarchs,” fabulously wealthy individuals essentially granted monopoly control over large sectors of the Russian economy in exchange for fealty to Putin. It’s a way of doing business our own would-be strong man has always admired. A coarse blowhard with a taste for golden toilets, Trump fits right in.
See, that’s the half-acknowledged reality behind BuzzFeed’s apparent reporting blunder about whether or not Trump told his one-time “fixer” Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about his company’s pursuit of “Trump Tower Moscow” during 2016 presidential campaign.
BuzzFeed cited two anonymous law enforcement sources claiming that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators had emails, texts and testimony proving that Trump instructed Cohen to testify falsely about the would-be Moscow real estate deal.
Great excitement ensued on CNN, MSNBC and the rest. “If true” pundits and editorial writers agreed, then Trump basically suborned perjury—a “high crime” under anybody’s definition. But the reason they all added the disclaimer was that other journalists couldn’t confirm BuzzFeed’s story.
Cohen has admitted giving Congress a false timeline: claiming that the Trump organization dropped the Russian deal in January 2016, although negotiations continued right up to the GOP National Convention that June.
(Trump’s TV lawyer Rudy Giuliani has since extended the timeline until the November general election. But he’s not under oath on “Meet the Press.” Maybe Giuliani’s getting ahead of damaging revelations to come, or maybe he’s just a buffoon. Possibly both.
Rudy recently told the New Yorker : “I am afraid it will be on my gravestone. ‘Rudy Giuliani: He lied for Trump.’” He insisted that he always tells the truth, but that’s definitely not something you want your attorney to say.) 
As even Fox News loyalists know by now, Robert Mueller’s office made a rare public statement: “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.”
Hmm… “Not accurate” can mean a lot of things. The special counsel’s statement was both lawyerly and vague. BuzzFeed is sticking by its story. We shall see. But I am not holding my breath.
So anyway, let’s get real, shall we? Particularly in view of their long history as fellow con-men, Trump didn’t need to tell Michael Cohen to lie. All Cohen needed to do was to follow the master’s example. Trump’s been lying about his dealings with the Russians from the get-go. Virtually every word he’s ever said about the infamous Moscow Trump Tower is provably false.
It’s now come to the point where he’s lying about the lying, falsely claiming that everybody has always known about his Russian business interests, and besides, so what?
So what is that during the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly and indignantly denied any and all business relationships with Russia and Russians. The Washington Post has published a detailed timeline. On January 17, 2017, for example, he tweeted “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” In a same day press conference, he repeated “I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia because we’ve stayed away.”
Every word was a barefaced lie. And nobody knew that better than Vladimir Putin. What’s more, the relationship goes back decades. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Don, Jr. said in 2008. “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia,” Eric Trump told
a reporter in 2014.
Forget Moscow prostitutes, Putin understands that Trump’s bigger weakness is his insatiable greed. What’s more, by lying about it during the presidential campaign, he opened himself to political blackmail.
“He has been totally compromised from at least the day he signed a letter of intent to build that tower, writes Washington Monthly’s Martin Longman. “This is now beyond dispute.” 
Indeed. Trump was Putin’s pawn when he proposed lifting economic sanctions against the Russian regime, when he parroted the Russian anti-NATO and anti-EU line, when he called upon the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, basically during every minute of the 2016 campaign.
Worse, nothing has changed since inauguration.

On Saturday Night Live, Baldwin Returns To Play Shutdown ‘Deal Or No Deal’

To mark this moment of insanity, Alec Baldwin returns to Saturday Night Live as Donald Trump — where the stable genius plays a special Government Shutdown Edition of “Deal Or No Deal.” Hosted by Kenan Thompson as Steve Harvey, the sketch features comical offers from his antagonists in Congress, including Nancy Pelosi (Kate McKinnon), Chuck Schumer (Alex Moffat), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Melissa Villaseñor), and Maxine Waters (Leslie Jones).

When Pelosi offers to give him “$1 billion, and you say Nancy is my mommy,” Trump balks. The game goes nowhere until a Clemson football player shows up with a box full of “hamberders.”

Click and laugh.

 

Trump Blinks, Asks Congressional Leaders To ‘Make A Deal’

On Tuesday, President Trump on invited congressional leaders from both parties to the White House for a “briefing on border security.” Scheduled for Wednesday, this will be their first bipartisan meeting, one day before Democrats take control of the House of Representatives. Homeland Security officials will brief the top two leaders from each party in the House and the Senate.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans have indicated that the parties are any closer to agreement on the budget or Trump’s demand for $5 billion in additional spending on a border wall. But as the government shutdown entered its second week, Trump’s invitation was a sign that his hardline position may be faltering.

So was the tweet he posted later on Tuesday:

Border Security and the Wall “thing” and Shutdown is not where Nancy Pelosi wanted to start her tenure as Speaker! Let’s make a deal?

For her part, Pelosi stuck to the plan announced earlier, to bring a funding bill to the floor on Thursday. She responded bluntly to Trump’s “deal” tweet:

.@realDonaldTrump has given Democrats a great opportunity to show how we will govern responsibly & quickly pass our plan to end the irresponsible #TrumpShutdown – just the first sign of things to come in our new Democratic Majority committed to working #ForThePeople.

 

Pelosi is expected to win election as Speaker on Thursday — which will mean, among other things, a new year of accountability for Trump.

Danziger: Self Preservation

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.