Clock running out for Congress to avert government shutdown

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 19, 2018 6:08 AM

By Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Racing against a midnight deadline, the U.S. Congress will try on Friday to send President Donald Trump legislation to keep the government operating and avoid federal agency shutdowns that would otherwise begin on Saturday.

The House of Representatives voted 230-197 on Thursday night for a bill to extend expiring funding through Feb. 16.

But with tempers frayed and Republicans and Democrats deeply divided over immigration legislation that has found its way into the government funding fight, the bill appeared to be on the verge of collapse in the Senate.

Without a replenishment of funds, federal agencies ranging from the Department of Agriculture, Health and Human Services and State Department to the Pentagon and Justice Department would have to curtail some activities and furlough workers. [nL1N1PE00F] [nL1N1PE02P]

Nearly four months into the 2018 fiscal year, the two parties still had not agreed on top-line spending for defense and non-defense programs, rendering impossible the passage of a long-term government funding bill.

Instead, Congress has been struggling to pass its fourth short-term appropriations measure.

Amid the deadlock, more senators were raising the possibility of merely approving enough new federal funds for a few days. The idea is to put pressure on negotiators to then cut deals on immigration, defense spending and non-defense funding by next week.

The immigration fight is over Democrats' demand that 700,000 young undocumented immigrants be protected from deportation.

Given temporary legal status under a program started by former President Barack Obama, these "Dreamers," as they are called, were brought into the United States, largely from Mexico and Central America, as children.

Many have been educated in the United States and know no other country.

In September, Trump announced he was ending the program and giving Congress until March 5 to come up with a legislative replacement.

Since then, however, the president has engaged in a series of spats with Congress. Trump and conservatives in Congress have used the Dreamer fight to try and win tough new immigration controls, including the president's promised border wall.

Late on Thursday, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who is leading the fight for the Dreamers, told reporters there had been some signs earlier in the day that talks with Republicans were taking a positive turn and a deal could be within reach.

But in a late-night speech on the Senate floor, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of aiming to "hold the entire country hostage" by demanding immediate resolution of a "non-imminent problem" related to immigration.

McConnell continued to push for passage of the bill approved by the House so that a government shutdown can promptly be avoided.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)