Senate sets votes Thursday on rival plans to end partial shutdown

With no evidence that President Donald Trump's weekend speech on immigration and a border wall had changed the dynamic in Congress related to a partial government shutdown, Senate leaders set a pair of votes on competing plans from Democrats and Republicans for Thursday afternoon, the first time Senate Republicans have allowed votes to end the shutdown since before Christmas.

"The President's made a comprehensive and bipartisan offer," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. "It's a strong proposal, it's the only thing on the table."

"It was not a good faith proposal. It was not intended to end the shutdown," said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer. "The President's proposal is one-sided."

The political jousting came as representatives of federal workers - who seem likely to go without a paycheck again this Friday - urged the Congress and the President to fully fund the government, and then settle their differences over border security spending.

"Every family in the FBI has mortgages, car payments, bills that come in at the end of the month," said Tom O'Connor, the head of the FBI Agents Association.

"You have to pay those. Try doing that without a paycheck," O'Connor told a Washington news conference.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration announced it was calling more federal employees back to work - as the Department of Agriculture said Farm Service Agency offices would resume operations on Thursday.

"The FSA provides vital support for farmers and ranchers and they count on those services being available," said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Farmers have complained for weeks that the lack of FSA offices was hampering all sorts of work, like applying for bailout payments related to retaliatory tariffs against the U.S., filing paperwork for operating loans, and a variety of other crop programs.

But those Farm Service Agency workers won't be paid until the Congress resolves the shutdown.

Back on Capitol Hill, there were no signs that the President's immigration offer from Saturday was going to break the gridlock over Mr. Trump call for $5.7 billion in border security funding.

But the mere fact that there were going to be votes in the Senate related to the shutdown - the first votes on government funding since before Christmas - was seen by some as a welcome event.

"I'm pleased that the gears of the legislative process are moving," said Matt Glassman, a fellow at the Georgetown University Government Affairs Institute.

Senate leaders agreed to two procedural votes on Thursday - with 60 votes needed - first on the President's border plan, plus funding for the federal government, and then on a Democratic plan which combines disaster aid with a plan to simply fund shuttered agencies through February 8.

For Glassman and a few others - the decision to set those votes so that Republicans would go first, and then Democrats second, raised questions about whether GOP Senators might vote first to approve money for a border wall, and then also vote to re-open the government, despite the President's opposition.

A spokesman for the Senate Majority Leader rejected that idea, saying that Sen. McConnell was against the Democratic plan - but the schedule on Thursday does give GOP Senators the option to first vote for the border wall funding - and when that fails - then vote to re-open the government for about two weeks.

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