By Richard Cowan, Steve Holland, Reuters–
The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday approved another stopgap bill to keep the federal government from shutting down, hours after President Donald Trump said he would “love” to see a shutdown if immigration legislation were not included.
In a further sign of the Republican-controlled Congress’ inability to get its most basic work done, the House in a 245-182 vote passed and sent to the Senate a temporary spending bill to extend most agency funding until March 23.
It was the fifth such stopgap of the federal fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. Stopgaps are needed when Congress fails to approve a full budget on time by that date. Congress has managed to pass its spending bills on time in only four of the past 40 years, according to congressional researchers.
The Senate was expected to take up the House bill on Wednesday and likely change it, requiring it to go back to the House for further action, with a Thursday deadline looming to get a finished bill to Trump for his signature.
As a result of the time crunch, Democrats canceled a retreat to Maryland’s Eastern Shore that they had planned for Wednesday to Friday and said they would talk strategy in the U.S. Capitol instead.
The House bill does not contain changes to U.S. immigration law, which were a key point of contention in a partisan standoff that led to a three-day partial shutdown last month.
Senate Democrats were expected to balk at the House’s bill’s inclusion of an increase in Pentagon funding through Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year, but exclusion of any increase in non-defense spending.
Republicans and Democrats said they were making progress, however, on a budget deal that would set new, higher spending limits for defense and non-defense programs.
Last month’s shutdown came after lawmakers failed to reach agreement on contentious budget and immigration issues.
“I’d love to see a shutdown if we don’t get this stuff taken care of,” Trump said at the White House.
The White House later clarified that it did not expect the budget deal to include specifics on immigration.
A broad budget deal could end the brinkmanship over spending that roils Washington so regularly that financial markets barely flinch anymore at the threat of a government shutdown.
“I‘m optimistic that very soon we’ll be able to reach an agreement,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said an agreement being forged would increase funding for domestic programs like drug treatment and broadband infrastructure that Democrats want, as well as a military spending increase sought by Republicans.
“We’re making real progress,” he told reporters.
January’s shutdown came after Democrats insisted any spending bill include protections for young immigrants known as “Dreamers” brought to the country illegally as children. Democrats are not taking that approach this time around. “Nobody wants another one (shutdown) but him,” Schumer said of Trump.
Trump’s fellow Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress, are eager to keep spending and immigration separate.
“We don’t need a government shutdown on this,” Republican Representative Barbara Comstock told Trump at the White House.
Congress faces another deadline on a separate front. The United States could have trouble paying its bills within weeks if lawmakers do not raise the federal debt ceiling, another fiscal issue fraught with political peril.
The third-ranking House Republican, Representative Steve Scalise, said negotiations over the debt ceiling were being coupled with the Senate budget talks.
Lawmakers have been struggling to reach a deal on an immigration bill, despite broad public support for helping the Dreamers, hundreds of thousands of young Latinos who were allowed to study and work without fear of deportation under a program set up by former Democratic President Barack Obama.
Trump last year ordered those protections removed by March 5, although a federal court has blocked his administration from ending the program.
Lawmakers are trying to agree on legislation that would protect Dreamers and boost border security. Schumer said the Senate could take up the issue next week.
Trump has said any immigration deal must include changes to programs for legal immigration that would assess applicants on their skills, rather than their countries of origin or ties to U.S. residents. Democrats oppose that idea.
Additional reporting by Makini Brice, David Morgan and Amanda Becker; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney