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Leaders seek to end GOP fissures over bill averting shutdown

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 5, 2017

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., meets with reporters after House Republicans held a closed-door strategy session as the deadline looms to pass a spending bill to fund the government by week's end, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., meets with reporters after House Republicans held a closed-door strategy session as the deadline looms to pass a spending bill to fund the government by week's end, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
By Alan Fram and Andrew Taylor Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Top Republicans tried quelling GOP divisions over the budget and a partisan immigration clash simmered in the background as leaders labored Tuesday to push a short-term spending bill through Congress by week’s end and avert a partial government shutdown.

Republican leaders postponed a planned House vote on the temporary spending measure from Wednesday until Thursday, buying time to iron out disputes with conservatives seeking tighter budget curbs. The delay underscored the clout conservatives wield within the House GOP as leaders work to avoid a shutdown that would deal the latest blow to a party that has strained all year to show it can govern effectively.

There seemed to be little taste by most in either party, at least for now, to shutter agency doors with 2018 midterm elections for control of Congress coming into view. That included at the White House, where President Donald Trump often revels in conflict and unpredictable tactics that members of his own party consider counterproductive.

“It’s always a possibility, but it’s certainly not what we hope for,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of a potential shutdown. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., will join GOP leaders for a White House meeting with Trump on Thursday, and Sanders said, “The president hopes to be able to have conversations with them to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Schumer couldn’t resist touting his and Pelosi’s abrupt refusal to attend a budget summit last week after Trump disparaged their views on immigration and taxes and said no deal was in sight.

“We showed the president. No games. This is serious stuff. We think he learned and he invited us back,” Schumer told reporters.

Money for federal agencies runs out at midnight Friday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Republicans hope Congress will pass legislation this week financing federal agencies until Dec. 22, giving bargainers time to make longer-term budget decisions and address other issues that have floated into the year-end mix.

Without support from their own conservatives, House GOP leaders would need backing from Democrats to push the temporary measure through the chamber. Democratic votes will definitely be crucial in the Senate, where Republicans by themselves lack the 60 votes needed to approve the legislation.

Knowing that, Democrats are using their leverage to try forcing concessions to boost domestic spending in areas like health care and infrastructure. Hinting that they might back a short-term measure preventing a shutdown, Schumer said approving such a bill “gives us a little more time to do the things we’re talking about now.”

Democrats also want a bipartisan deal extending a program halted by Trump that lets hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrived illegally as children stay in the U.S. Highlighting the intricate balancing act GOP leaders face, 34 House Republicans sent a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., urging him to hold a vote by year’s end on renewing those protections.

The fate of the immigration dispute remained unclear. Schumer said bipartisan talks are “moving in the right direction.”

But No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said Republicans oppose mixing the immigration issue into the budget talks because it could cause a shutdown that would “jeopardize our national security and other government functions, just in order to help these young adults.” He added, “We do want to resolve this, but it’s not going to be before the end of this year.”

Besides temporarily financing the government, McConnell said, the short-term measure would make cash available to several states that are running out of money for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. That widely popular program helps provide medical care to more than 8 million children.

Members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, who met Tuesday with Ryan, have been pushing to extend the short-term measure until Dec. 30. They have argued that the leaders’ preferred Dec. 22 deadline gives Democrats leverage because lawmakers are tempted to give in and go home for Christmas.

Most Republicans seemed to not be buying that argument and said the Dec. 22 date seemed likeliest.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., head of the Freedom Caucus, said his group was having “a good, healthy discussion” with leaders about ways to “fund the government without putting our military at a disadvantage.” Many Republicans are eager to quickly approve full-year funding for the military, despite ongoing bargaining over domestic programs.

With the budget chafing under spending caps imposed by a 2011 bipartisan budget deal, Democrats want defense and domestic programs to get equal funding increases. Both sides are also looking for additional money for states battered by recent storms.

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