Republicans hope to approve spending bill to avert shutdown
A new, stripped-down spending bill to prevent a government shutdown this weekend has been unveiled by Republicans in the House of Representatives.
The bill would stave off a government shutdown until January 19 and permit congressmen and women to head home for Christmas. It would also delay battles over the budget and immigration into January, denying Democrats wins that they had hoped to score this year.
Failure to pass the measure would trigger a government shutdown at midnight on Friday, which would amount to a political embarrassment just after the Republicans scored a major win on a landmark tax bill. With Republicans controlling Washington, they would not have anyone else to blame for a shutdown debacle.
White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway said the White House is committed to keeping the government open. She added in an appearance on Fox News Channel's Fox & Friends: "It would be a shame if the Democrats force a shutdown of the government in the 11th hour of trying to negotiate something."
Despite the perilous situation, Republican leaders are scrambling to rally some frustrated colleagues behind the measure, particularly defence hawks who had hoped to enact record budget increases for the Pentagon this year. The measure does contain about 5 billion US dollars for missile defence upgrades to respond to the threat from North Korea and to repair two destroyers damaged in accidents this year in the Pacific.
A vote is likely on Thursday and Senate passage is expected to quickly follow.
The House may also vote on an 81 billion dollar disaster aid package that is a priority of the Texas and Florida delegations, but its fate is uncertain. The Senate would likely add to the measure and pass it next year. Republicans may unveil changes to the measure on Thursday morning.
It would also temporarily extend an expiring overseas wiretapping programme aimed at tracking terrorists. It has bipartisan backing, but stout conservatives and some liberals oppose it.
Thursday's version is the third rewrite this week as Republican leaders have struggled to come up with a plan that would unite Republicans. Democratic leaders are not providing votes to pass the measure, saying Republicans are ignoring promises to protect so-called Dreamer immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. That issue, along with a hoped-for budget deal to undo a spending freeze on both the Pentagon and domestic agencies, would be put off until January.
An earlier plan favoured by pro-Pentagon members of the influential Armed Services Committee would have combined the stopgap funding bill, called a continuing resolution, with a 658 billion dollar Pentagon funding measure. But the idea is a nonstarter with the Senate, especially powerful minority leader Chuck Schumer.
"The number of options is collapsing down," said Republican Representative Frank Lucas. "I have faith that at the last possible moment, to paraphrase Churchill, when we have no other choice, we'll do what we need to do."
The bill Includes a short-term, 2.1 billion dollar fix for an expiring programme that pays for veterans to seek care outside the Department of Veterans Affairs system. It also includes a short-term "patch" to make sure the states facing shortfalls from the Children's Health Insurance Programme, which pays for health care for nine million children from low-income families, won't have to purge children from the scheme.
Meanwhile, the 81 billion dollar disaster aid bill faced a potential separate vote of its own, but was at risk of languishing because of opposition among some conservatives upset about its cost. Senate action on that bill would not come until next year anyway.
Regardless of how the crisis of the moment will be solved, most of the many items on Capitol Hill's list of unfinished business are going to be pushed into next year.
Hopes for a bipartisan budget deal to sharply increase spending for both the Pentagon and domestic agencies appeared dead for the year and Democrats were rebuffed in their demands for protections for young immigrants brought to the US illegally as children.
There is significant bipartisan sympathy for the immigrants, but battles over Republican demands for President Donald Trump's border wall and additional funding for immigration agents are proving difficult to resolve.
On Wednesday, Republican senators Lamar Alexander and Susan Collins announced they would not seek to add the insurance subsidies, which are designed to stabilise the Affordable Care Act's markets. The tax bill repeals the requirement that individuals purchase insurance.
Trying to combine the health measure with the spending bill was a demand of Mrs Collins when Mr Trump and Senate Republican leaders secured her vote for the party's tax cut measure. But House conservatives strongly opposed the move.
House Republicans were not part of that deal, and with the tax vote over, it became plain that Senate leaders were not able to deliver for her.