Congress seems on track to avert week­end gov­ern­ment shut­down

El Dorado News-Times - - National -

WASHINGTON (AP) — De­spite in­cen­di­ary words from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Congress seemed on track Wed­nes­day to ap­prov­ing leg­is­la­tion that would avert a par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down over the week­end as all sides seemed ready to avert a con­fronta­tion — for now.

In­creas­ingly con­fi­dent House lead­ers planned a Thurs­day vote on a bill that would keep fed­eral agencies func­tion­ing through Dec. 22, and Se­nate ap­proval was ex­pected to fol­low. Even the head of the con­ser­va­tive House Free­dom Cau­cus, whose mem­bers have been threat­en­ing to op­pose the mea­sure, pre­dicted pas­sage.

"No one wants a shut­down, in­clud­ing Free­dom Cau­cus mem­bers," Rep. Mark Mead­ows, R-N.C., told re­porters.

The mod­er­ated tone re­flected a sense within both par­ties that though ma­jor dif­fer­ences re­main over spend­ing, im­mi­gra­tion, health care and other is­sues, this was no time for a head­line-grab­bing gov­ern­ment clo­sure.

Repub­li­cans want the pub­lic fo­cus to be on the party's prized $1.5 tril­lion tax bill, which they hope to en­act by Christ­mas. They also have no in­ter­est in a shut­down that would raise ques­tions about their abil­ity to gov­ern.

While many Democrats seemed likely to op­pose the mea­sure, enough were ex­pected to sup­port it in the Se­nate to al­low its pas­sage there. They know they'd still have lever­age on sub­se­quent bills needed to keep the gov­ern­ment run­ning.

Con­gres­sional lead­ers of both par­ties planned to meet Trump at the White House on Thurs­day to bar­gain over long-term spend­ing lim­its and other is­sues that have be­come en­tan­gled with law­mak­ers' year-end work.

But Trump un­ex­pect­edly tossed a hand grenade into the mix when he told re­porters that a shut­down "could hap­pen" and blamed Democrats. He said they want "il­le­gal im­mi­grants pour­ing into our coun­try, bring­ing with them crime, tremen­dous amounts of crime."

His com­ments drew a tweet from House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who called Trump "the only per­son talk­ing about a gov­ern­ment shut­down."

Trump tweeted sim­i­lar at­tacks on Demo­cratic lead­ers shortly be­fore a meet­ing that was sched­uled last week, prompt­ing an­gered Democrats to boy­cott it.

This time, the White House fol­lowed up with a more ac­com­mo­dat­ing state­ment that praised Pelosi and Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer. The writ­ten state­ment said Trump was glad the two top Democrats had de­cided to "put their re­spon­si­bil­ity to the Amer­i­can peo­ple above par­ti­san­ship" and said Trump was an­tic­i­pat­ing pro­duc­tive talks be­tween "lead­ers who put their dif­fer­ences aside."

Later, the White House is­sued an­other state­ment in­di­cat­ing Trump would sign the two-week spend­ing ex­ten­sion and lay­ing out its goals for up­com­ing bud­get bar­gain­ing. It said money for the mil­i­tary in­clud­ing mis­sile de­fense and se­cu­rity along the bor­der with Mex­ico "must be pri­or­i­tized in a long-term fund­ing agree­ment."

The two-week bill is aimed at giv­ing ne­go­tia­tors more time to set­tle dif­fer­ences. The mea­sure also makes money avail­able to sev­eral states that are run­ning out of funds for the Chil­dren's Health In­sur­ance Pro­gram, a widely pop­u­lar pro­gram that pro­vides med­i­cal care to more than 8 mil­lion chil­dren.

Democrats have been us­ing their lever­age to in­sist on spend­ing boosts for health care, in­fra­struc­ture and other do­mes­tic pro­grams that would match in­creases Repub­li­cans want for de­fense.

Democrats are also seek­ing an agree­ment to ex­tend pro­tec­tions for hun­dreds of thou­sands of im­mi­grants who ar­rived in the U.S. il­le­gally as chil­dren. Trump ended safe­guards against de­por­ta­tion three months ago but has ex­pressed an open­ness to restor­ing them.

Mead­ows said the Free­dom Cau­cus had not taken a fi­nal po­si­tion on whether it will back the short-term bill, but he and sev­eral oth­ers stopped short of say­ing they'd op­pose it.

Con­ser­va­tive lead­ers met with top House Repub­li­cans and said they were seek­ing a strat­egy to re­duce Democrats' bud­get lever­age by quickly ap­prov­ing a full-year bud­get for the mil­i­tary. It was un­clear how Repub­li­cans could pre­vent Se­nate Democrats from block­ing such a move.

The roughly 30-mem­ber cau­cus has been try­ing to win prom­ises of tight bud­get curbs and other con­ces­sions from lead­ers in ex­change for back­ing the short-term bill. With­out sup­port from many of them, Repub­li­cans would need votes from Democrats to push the tem­po­rary spend­ing mea­sure through the House, and Democrats have not said what they will do.

Demo­cratic votes for any bud­get mea­sure will be cru­cial in the Se­nate, where Repub­li­cans by them­selves lack the 60 votes needed to ap­prove the leg­is­la­tion.

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