House Republicans' Shift on Budget Could Push Dreamer Debate Into Next Year

By Kristina Peterson Features Dow Jones Newswires

House GOP leaders are considering trying to pass a short-term spending bill that would keep the government funded into January, lawmakers and aides said Wednesday, potentially pushing debates over immigration and other contentious issues into next year.

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The government's current funding expires at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 9, and lawmakers previously said they wanted to pass a two-week patch that would expire before Christmas. Lawmakers hoped that would give them enough time to write and approve a more detailed spending bill for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The move to extend the short-term patch to January comes as lawmakers haven't yet hammered out an agreement over the overall spending levels for the longer-term bill, or how much disaster relief should be approved. And Republicans believe they may have more leverage in the negotiations if lawmakers aren't rushing to get home for the holidays, House GOP aides said Wednesday.

"I've always been in favor of a [continuing resolution] not coming due right before Christmas," Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said Wednesday, referring to a short-term spending bill. "If I had my druthers, I would have it come due in January, rather than December."

GOP leaders haven't made any final decision, but are reviewing a range of possible dates in January, aides said. One ramification of keeping the government funded into January might be that it would push into next year a fight over whether to include in the spending bill protections for immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents at a young age.

President Donald Trump ended a program protecting the young immigrants, known as Dreamers, in September, but gave Congress until early March to figure out legislation preventing them from being deported.

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Some Democrats, as well GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, had said they wouldn't vote for a year-end spending bill unless it included protections for the Dreamers. Budget talks imploded Tuesday when Mr. Trump said Democrats were trying to cause a government shutdown over immigration and jabbed them over Twitter, causing Democratic leaders to pull out of a White House meeting.

It isn't clear whether Democrats would vote against a short-term spending bill that pushed the immigration negotiations into January. That is particularly important in the Senate, where Republicans hold 52 seats, but most bills require 60 votes to clear procedural hurdles. Even in the House, Republicans often balk at spending bills, forcing GOP leaders to rely on Democratic votes.

Still, lawmakers usually vote for short-term spending bills designed just to avoid a partial government shutdown.

But in this case, extending the government's funding into January could delay the resolution of a host of issues beyond immigration, complicating December and frustrating many factions.

Lawmakers had eyed some health-care provisions for a year-end bill. Congress must also renew a surveillance law that authorizes a wide array of electronic spying on foreign targets by the end of December, or risk letting key programs lapse. Committee leaders have said they expect the renewal measure to be attached to some sort of spending legislation.

Meanwhile, defense hawks said they don't want to pass another short-term spending patch, which just extends the current funding.

Top military officials have repeatedly urged Congress to write fresh spending bills that can allocate money to the latest needs.

"The secretary of defense has said it's devastating to our military to do continuing resolutions," said Rep. Mike Turner (R., Ohio.).

And lawmakers on the appropriations panels, which write the spending bills, are incensed when Congress ignores their carefully crafted legislation to just pass short-term patches.

"Whenever you do a CR, you're punting," said Rep. Tom Rooney (R., Fla.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee. "It's just one more reason why this place doesn't function the way that it should."

--Byron Tau and Stephanie Armour contributed to this article.

Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 29, 2017 17:31 ET (22:31 GMT)