WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government staggered toward another shutdown on Thursday night after Senator Rand Paul, an outspoken fiscal conservative, single-handedly delayed Senate action on a stopgap funding bill wrapped up in a massive budget deal.
Paul engaged in an on-again, off-again speech on the Senate floor for more than nine hours, objecting to $300 billion in deficit spending contained in the bill, even as a midnight deadline approached for passage of the stopgap measure.
At nearly 11 p.m., the Senate declared a recess until one minute after midnight. By that time, the current spending authority for funding federal agencies will have expired, which technically would trigger a shutdown.
Even if the Senate changed course and voted swiftly, it appeared unlikely that the House of Representatives could act in time to prevent what would be the second shutdown of the year after a three-day partial shutdown in January.
The unexpected turn of events in the Senate underscored the persistent inability of the Republican-controlled Congress to deal effectively with its most basic fiscal responsibilities.
The White House’s Office of Management and Budget said earlier in the evening it was preparing for a shutdown if the stopgap bill did not pass on time.
“The Office of Management and Budget is currently preparing for a lapse in appropriations,” an OMB official said.
Paul, a senator from Kentucky, said the overall budget bill that includes the stopgap measure would “loot the Treasury.”
“The reason I‘m here tonight is to put people on the spot. I want them to feel uncomfortable,” he said.
The bill, backed by Republican President Donald Trump but crafted by Republican Senate leaders, would end for some time the fiscal policy squabbling that has consumed Congress for months. But it would be costly and it would further underscore a shift under way in Republican thinking.
Once known as the party of fiscal conservatism, the Republicans and Trump approved a sweeping tax overhaul bill in December that will add an estimated $1.5 trillion to the national debt over 10 years.
The new budget bill would raise military and domestic spending by almost $300 billion over the next two years. With no offsets in the form of other spending cuts or new tax revenues, that additional spending would be financed by borrowed money.
“I ran for office because I was very critical of President Obama’s trillion-dollar deficits,” Paul said.
“Now we have Republicans hand in hand with Democrats offering us trillion-dollar deficits. I can’t in … good faith, just look the other way because my party is now complicit in the deficits. Really who is to blame? Both parties,” he said.
Paul voted for the deficit-financed tax bill in December.
Additional reporting by Makini Brice, Katanga Johnson and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Kevin Drawbaugh; Editing by Paul Tait