With time running out, Congress scrambles to avoid a government shutdown


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WASHINGTON — With funding set to expire in one week, Congress is scrambling once again to avoid a government shutdown.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., insisted Thursday that lawmakers would pass a short-term resolution to keep the government running at current spending levels past Dec. 8, when the existing funding measure is set to expire.

But how long that temporary fix would last remains in doubt.

Some Republicans want the next “continuing resolution” that would keep the government operating through mid-December, hoping that would give lawmakers enough time to work out an agreement on spending and other thorny issues for the fiscal year that ends next Sept. 30.

Some members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus want to put off those decisions until January, arguing that conservatives often lose in year-end negotiations because lawmakers want to get home for the holidays. As a result, they say, lawmakers are more willing to make concessions during last-minute talks and legislation tends to be less conservative.

In the Senate, meanwhile, any deal to keep the government open could be scuttled over immigration.

The Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, is threatening to vote against any short-term funding bill that doesn’t provide relief for young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents. Durbin is rallying other Democrats to help him block any spending bill that doesn’t deal with the legal status of so-called Dreamers.

If that happens, “then they will have chosen to shut the government, something that we do not want to see happen,” Ryan said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats want to keep the government open, but she said the responsibility belongs to Republicans as the majority party. She wouldn’t say whether she would vote for a spending bill if there is no deal on Dreamers.

“I’m not saying what I’m going to vote on any bill until I see it, because they keep changing,” she said.

Here’s a closer look at what Congress is doing to avoid a government shutdown and the issues that could derail those negotiations:


The fate of Dreamers is perhaps the biggest sticking point for Democrats.

The Trump administration announced in September that it would wind down the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which has shielded them from deportation. But Trump gave Congress a six-month deadline to pass legislation that would preserve the program.

Many Republicans want to pair border security measures with DACA as part of a larger immigration bill. But Democrats want to use their leverage in the Senate, where their votes are needed for the must-pass spending bill, to address the issue now.

Durbin this week became the highest-ranking Democrat to join several progressive senators in saying he would oppose a spending bill if Congress doesn’t address Dreamers’ legal status. And he’s asking other Democrats to join him.

Durbin co-authored bipartisan legislation that would create a path to citizenship for Dreamers. His co-sponsor, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, told reporters Wednesday that he would work to get a fix before the end of the year, but if spending legislation didn’t include such a provision it wouldn’t stop him from voting for it.

In addition to Graham, at least a dozen other Republicans have said they’d like to see an immigration fix before the year’s end. And two Florida House Republicans have said they wouldn’t vote for a spending bill without protections for Dreamers. 

Ryan has said that there is no need to put “artificial deadlines” in place and that there will be a solution by March.

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President Trump

Despite ongoing negotiations in Congress, lawmakers never know what the president will tweet that could scuttle their plans.

Earlier this week, the president, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and California’s Pelosi were all set to meet with Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to discuss a spending solution when the president went rogue on Twitter.

Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that Schumer and Pelosi “want illegal immigrants flooding into our Country unchecked, are weak on Crime and want to substantially RAISE taxes. I don’t see a deal!”

Schumer and Pelosi then canceled the meeting and Trump, Ryan and McConnell huddled next to empty chairs.

At his weekly press conference on Thursday, Ryan also slammed Schumer and Pelosi for not showing up for the White House meeting.

“You got to show up if you want to make your point,” he said. “I don’t think Democrats are in a very good position to be making demands if they’re not even going to participate in the negotiations that are necessary to move legislation forward and to solve problems.”

But Pelosi said Trump didn’t want to hear what Democrats had to say.

“We’re so sad, because all we wanted to do was give him some information, so that he would have some judgment about what he was talking about,” she said Thursday.


Health care

Republican Sen. Susan Collins’ vote on a separate GOP-tax bill is contingent upon the House and Senate passing a pair of bipartisan bills intended to keephealth insurance premiums from skyrocketing for those individuals using the exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The Maine senator told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast Thursday morning that a spending bill is the likely vehicle for the bill co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and another she sponsored along with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida. 

The  Alexander-Murray bill would restart paying Obamacare subsidies thatTrump had ended to insurance companies to hold down premiums. The Collins-Nelson bill would create a reinsurance mechanism to help insurers deal with people with catastrophic medical costs.

But hardline conservatives aren’t seeing such a rosy outcome for the health care bills, which they view as a bailout to insurance companies.

House Freedom Caucus ChairRep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said he couldn’t see himself voting for a continuing resolution that included Alexander-Murray and saw a “high hurdle” for such a measure to pass the House.

But he acknowledged that the health care bills are popular with Democrats and moderate Republicans and could garner enough support from Democrats to make it across the finish line without the support of conservatives.

Spending caps

The parties also must reach an agreement on limits for defense and non-defense spending, which were capped under the Budget Control Act of 2011 to cut spending.

Republicans want to keep all spending capped, except for defense spending. Democrats say they’re OK raising the caps for defense spending as long as the non-defense spending caps are also raised at the same level.

“The question (is) the caps, and until you have the caps, you really can’t finish the bill,” Pelosi said. “I think we certainly want to have all the defense that we need to protect our country. And as I say, one third of our domestic discretionary budget…is national security.”

Pelosi noted that non-defense spending funds the State Department, Homeland Security, anti-terrorism efforts, the Justice Department and veterans. She said additional non-defense, discretionary spending could also help address the opioid epidemic and fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program and community health centers.

USA TODAY reporter Deirdre Shesgreen contributed to the story.


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