WASHINGTON - The US government staggered into another shutdown on Thursday night after an outspoken fiscal conservative in the Senate singlehandedly delayed action by Congress on a stopgap funding bill wrapped up in a massive budget deal.
At midnight on Thursday, funding authority for most federal agencies expired without any intervening action by Congress.
Missing the midnight deadline technically triggered a shutdown, but it could be brief.
The Senate was expected to approve the stopgap bill and budget deal after 1am and send it to the House of Representatives. Lawmakers in that chamber were deeply divided along party line and passage was uncertain.
But House Republican leaders said the package would be approved, possibly before the start of the workday. If it is, there would be no practical interruption in federal government business. If it is not, the result would be an actual shutdown, the second of 2018, after a three-day shutdown in January.
The midnight deadline was missed because of a nine-hour, on-again, off-again Senate floor speech by Senator Rand Paul, who objected to $300-billion in deficit spending in the bill.
The unexpected turn of events in the Senate underscored the persistent inability of the Republican-controlled Congress and Republican President Donald Trump to deal effectively with Washington's most basic fiscal obligations.
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 win passage on time in Congress.
"The Office of Management and Budget is currently preparing for a lapse in appropriations," an OMB official said.
The US Office of Personnel Management sent an email to federal government employees at 12.06am, citing the expiry of funding and advising them to consult their agencies "for guidance on reporting for duty."