WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders are looking to pass a short-term spending bill to avoid a government shutdown next week and keep the government’s doors open through Dec. 22.
With the additional time, the GOP hopes talks with Democrats over spending and immigration could produce the framework for a longer-term budget pact agreement and resolve a basket of Washington’s other unfinished business. Both sides want a bipartisan agreement on spending increases for the Pentagon and domestic agencies, whose budgets otherwise would be frozen.
The government’s spending runs out a week from Friday, with little time for negotiations.
Battles over immigration and President Donald Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall could still threaten to spark a government shutdown, either just before Christmas or in January.
But the emerging scenario represents progress of sorts after a tit-for-tat battle on Tuesday between Trump and top Capitol Hill Democrats scotched a White House meeting slated to discuss the crush of year-end business. Both sides want to give negotiations another chance to produce an agreement with wins for Republicans and Democrats alike. If an agreement is reached by Dec. 22, another temporary spending bill, probably into January, would be required to iron out details of a separate follow-up measure totaling more than $1 trillion that would fund every federal agency for 2018.
“We’re going to give it space and time. We’re going to see if they can resolve something,” said North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry, a key GOP leadership strategist. “And that will determine what Dec. 22 looks like.”
If talks fall apart, however, a shutdown threat could quake the capital just before Christmas.
A key unresolved issue involves legislation to protect immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children and whose protected status is set to lapse in March. Trump backs the idea despite issuing an executive order reversing the Obama administration protections, officially called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, starting next spring.
Democrats want the issue resolved this year, but GOP leaders — facing many rank and file lawmakers opposed to the idea — aren’t in any hurry.
Conservatives oppose drawing in the immigration issue to legislation to keep the government running. The Trump White House is pressing to address other issues such as the wall and new funding for immigration enforcement.
“Do we have to have a DACA solution? Yes we do. The deadline’s March,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “But if they want to get to a solution they ought to come to the table and start talking.”
House Democrats — whose votes will be needed to pass any omnibus spending bill next year — say they won’t supply votes to keep the government open in the near term unless the immigration issue is resolved.
“The Republicans have the majority in the House and the Senate and the White House. The responsibility to keep government open is theirs in the majority, and it’s up to them to keep government open,” Pelosi told reporters.
But Senate Democrats, who have the power to block any stopgap spending measure, aren’t taking as hard a line. For starters, their ranks are filled with incumbents facing re-election next year in states carried by Trump, and most of the senators in that group aren’t eager to cast a vote that could make it look like they’re shutting the government down over DACA.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has been given several opportunities to draw a line in the sand over DACA but hasn’t, at least not yet.
“There is good bipartisan support and we believe DREAM will get done by the end of the year,” Schumer said, referring to the so-call DREAM Act, legislation sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that would allow the younger immigrants, many of whom have only known America as their home, to become U.S. citizens.
Ryan also said the House Appropriations Committee and members from the Texas and Florida delegations, whose states were hard-hit by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, are working together to redraw the White House’s recent $44 billion disaster aid request. The powerful delegations want to add money for housing, agricultural aid, and water and flood control projects, while Democrats are determined to add billions of dollars for Puerto Rico.
“Let’s just say there was a level of dissatisfaction with these delegations with the (White House) submission,” Ryan told reporters. “And so, we have asked the appropriators to get together with these delegations to discuss the disaster supplemental and work with them.”
Pelosi and Schumer pulled out of Tuesday’s meeting with Trump after he criticized them on Twitter.