Hundreds of thousands of government workers - among them border guards and airport security staff - will work without pay over the Christmas holiday if Donald Trump and the Democrats do not agree a budget spending deal.
As the president threatened a partial shutdown of the government that would “last for a very long time” if he did not receive $5bn for a border wall as part of the budget, the senate began consideringa Republican bill that contains such a sum, but which had virtually no chance of getting Democratic support.
Last week, Mr Trump said he would be “proud” to allow a shutdown if it meant he secured a border wall. After senators two days ago passed a bipartisan measure that contained funding for border security - but not a wall - the president dug his heels in and tried to blame his opponents. “If enough Dems don’t vote, it will be a Democrat shutdown,” he tweeted.
Meanwhile, as politicians on Capitol Hill engaged in a blame game, the cost of a shutdown became clearer.
The New York Times said unless a budget was agreed by the deadline of midnight on Friday, nine government departments would close and as many a 420,000 federal employees would work over the holiday period without pay.
Among the departments to shut would be the treasury, agriculture, homeland security, the interior, state, housing and urban development, transportation, commerce and justice.
It said hundreds of thousands of workers considered “essential” - among them prison officer, border agents and weather service forecasters - will have to work without pay. The newspaper added that 42,000 Coast Guard employees expected to be among those working without pay, and that 53,000 members of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the man and women who oversee security at airports, will also be working without remuneration.
On Friday, Mr Trump hailed the House bill that included more than $5bn for a wall including slats and walls. Democrats have said they are willing to spend on border security but do not believe a wall is not necessary and is more a political giveaway to the president’s supporters.
Mr Trump claimed the wall will “pay for itself” on a monthly basis - a calculation he did not fully explain.
“I don’t think the Democrats care very much about this,” he said. “But it’s a big issue.”
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell urged approval of the bill, which includes $5.7bn for a wall on the southern border with Mexico.
Mr McConnell said the bill is neither “radical” nor difficult to explain. Instead he said it addresses a crisis at the border that includes illegal drug smuggling and increased apprehensions of people trying to cross illegally into the US, the Associated Press said.
Mr McConnell, who met with the president on Friday at the White House, said in a Senate speech that “this legislation would be quite uncontroversial in a more normal political moment”.
He blamed “far-left” Democrats for opposing the spending package approved by House Republicans.
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