Congress seems set to avert weekend government shutdown

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (December 7, 2017) — Congress seems set to prevent a weekend government shutdown, but lawmakers and President Donald Trump still have longer-range disputes to settle over spending, immigration and other issues before they can declare budget peace.

With many on both sides deciding a headline-grabbing federal closure would be a political blunder — at least for now — the House planned to approve legislation Thursday financing federal agencies through Dec. 22. The Senate seemed ready to follow. Without legislation, many agencies would run out of money after midnight Friday and grind to a close.

The two-week spending measure is aimed at giving both parties' bargainers more time to reach longer-term budget decisions. To jumpstart that negotiating, Trump and congressional leaders were meeting Thursday to try reaching agreements.

The prospects for successful White House talks were buffeted Wednesday when the impulsive Trump blurted to reporters that a shutdown "could happen." He blamed Democrats, saying they want "illegal immigrants pouring into our country, bringing with them crime, tremendous amounts of crime."

Last week, an unexpected attack by Trump on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., prompted the two Democrats to skip a bargaining session that was planned then.

This time, the White House smoothed the waters by following up with a more peaceable, written statement. It praised Pelosi and Schumer for choosing 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. It also laid out administration budget goals, saying money for the military including missile defense and security along the border with Mexico "must be prioritized in a long-term funding agreement."

For Republicans, a shutdown would put a humiliating bookend on a year in which they've controlled the White House and Congress with little to show for it. They want the public to focus instead on the GOP's prized $1.5 trillion tax bill, which party leaders hope to send Trump by Christmas.

The two-week spending bill also makes money available to several states that are running out of funds for the Children's Health Insurance Program. That widely popular program provides medical care to more than 8 million children.

Even the head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, whose members have been threatening to oppose the temporary spending measure, predicted passage.

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

The roughly 30-member caucus has been trying to win promises from leaders of spending curbs and quick passage of a full-year defense budget 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.

While many Democrats seemed likely to oppose the short-term bill, 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.

Republicans control the Senate 52-48 and will need at least eight Democratic votes for passage.

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.

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