House Republicans mull funding extension; 'Dreamer' deal not set

Capitol Dome  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

House Republicans considered on Tuesday a stopgap bill to fund the U.S. government through Feb. 16 to avert a shutdown, but the measure would not include Democrats' demands for protections for young people brought to the United States illegally as children.

Partisan finger-pointing over immigration policy on Tuesday left Congress and the White House stumbling closer to a possible federal government shutdown by the end of the week.

Republicans who control Congress are expected to try to push another stopgap funding bill and get it to President Donald Trump's desk before a midnight Friday deadline when existing money for federal agencies expires.

The bill would not include protections for the young people described as "Dreamers," Republican Representative Mike Simpson told reporters after his party's closed-door meeting.

Many Democrats in Congress have insisted that immigration be a component of the temporary spending bill.

But Democrats, under the plan being developed in the House, would win an unrelated high-priority item: a six-year reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), according to lawmakers. It was unclear whether the House Republican leadership would get enough votes to pass the measure in that chamber.

The conservative House Freedom Caucus was to meet late on Tuesday and its head, Representative Mark Meadows, told reporters he did not know if a "compelling" case had been made for another temporary spending bill that would fail to bring the big increases in defense spending his group is seeking.

Republicans were also discussing delaying three Affordable Healthcare Act taxes: two-year delays of a medical device and a "Cadillac" tax for high-end insurance plans and a one-year delay in 2019 of another health insurance tax.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned that a government funding bill should not be held "hostage" to the immigration debate. And the White House director of legislative affairs, Marc Short, told reporters there was “no artificial timeline” for a deal on so-called Dreamers and that it would be "herculean" to get it done by this week.

The negotiating climate has become increasingly poisonous after a sudden halt last week in talks toward a deal to shield the Dreamers from deportation.

Trump rejected a bipartisan agreement reached by a group of senators. Divisions between Republicans and Democrats then deepened amid an uproar over Trump's reported use of the word "shithole" when speaking about African countries last week. Trump has denied using that word.

The head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus expressed her opposition to the bipartisan Senate deal, although she said she had not seen its text and noted it had some positive aspects.

"In its current form I'm probably a no," Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, said in an interview.

The Senate approach, Lujan Grisham said, would reduce the parents of Dreamers to "second-class citizens" because they would receive temporary protections and no pathway to citizenship, as well as other problems.

Republican Senator Lindsay Graham on Tuesday blamed White House staff for altering Trump's positive view on the Senate bipartisan agreement on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that protects the Dreamers.

"I will say I don't think the president was well-served by his staff," Graham said.

If a temporary "continuing resolution" to keep the government operating results, it would be the fourth such measure since the 2018 federal fiscal year began on Oct. 1, a sign of Washington's serious struggles to pass spending legislation.


No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer said Democrats have not decided whether they will support another continuing resolution and "kick the can down the road one more time."

The slim Republican margin of control in the U.S. Senate means Trump's party will need some Democratic support to resolve the government funding stand-off. Democrats have said they want a spending bill that protects the Dreamers, mostly Hispanic young adults.

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin intends to introduce the bipartisan agreement as legislation on Wednesday, spokesman Ben Marter said. But it was not yet clear whether Majority Leader McConnell would schedule it for a floor debate and vote.

Trump said in September he was terminating the DACA program, begun by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, effective in March. Congress has until then to pass legislation to protect roughly 700,000 people from deportation and issue work permits.

Trump said he was willing to make a deal to help the Dreamers but insisted that funding for border security, including his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexican border opposed by Democrats, be included in any spending package.

The bipartisan deal called for $2.7 billion for an array of border security steps.

Trump wrote on Twitter that if the government were shut down over amnesty and border security, the military would be the biggest loser.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer countered in a speech on the Senate floor: "If you want to begin the long road back to prove you’re not prejudiced or bigoted, support the bipartisan compromise that three Democrats and three Republicans have put before you."

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Amanda Becker and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Mohammad Zargham and Blake Brittain; Editing by Will Dunham, Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool)