Wednesday, January 17, 2018

U.S. House unveils new stop-gap funding bill to avert shutdown

By on December 21, 2017

The U.S. Capitol Dome (L) building is pictured in Washington, DC, U.S. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON – Republicans in the U.S. Congress on Thursday advanced legislation to keep the federal government operating past Friday when funding expires, adding some “emergency” money for the military in a bid to gain the support of conservatives in the House of Representatives.

House Republican leaders unveiled a new version of a bill they hope to pass before Friday’s midnight deadline and keep federal agencies humming along at current funding levels through Jan. 19, averting a shutdown that would create political havoc in Washington.

But as of early on Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan did not appear to have lined up the votes needed for passage in the Republican-majority chamber. Any measure approved by the House would then have to be considered by the Senate.

Representative Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, described a paralyzed Congress during early-morning testimony to a House committee.

“You have 36 hours to keep the government open,” he said. “We don’t have the votes to keep the government open. We don’t have the votes to shut it down.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said his chamber would act as quickly as possible. “We’re ready to work together across the aisle to ensure there is no lapse in funding for critical services,” he said on the Senate floor.

The House also was aiming to approve an $81 billion disaster aid bill to help Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and several states recover from this year’s hurricanes and wildfires.

MONEY FOR MISSILES, SHIPS

The House bill, released online by the House Rules Committee, calls for an additional $4.7 billion for the Department of Defense to be used for missile defense and ship repair.

Many House Republicans were pushing for a more significant increase in military funding, despite staunch opposition in the Senate, which wants to leave that fight for early next year.

Republican Representative Chris Collins told reporters late on Wednesday, “The defense hawks want monies … that unfortunately the Senate’s not in a position to give them.”

Democrats want to include protections for young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally when they were children. President Donald Trump has terminated a program that shielded them from deportation but has asked Congress to come up with a permanent solution by March.

McConnell said the Senate could hold a vote to protect the so-called “Dreamers” in January but Democrats want to include it with the spending bill to increase its odds of passage.

Trump accused Democrats of pushing for a shutdown to shift attention from the tax cut plan that passed Congress this week. “House Republicans, don’t let this happen,” he wrote on Twitter.

The Trump administration does not want other elements added to the spending bill, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

The House bill includes $2.85 billion to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program through March and funding for community health centers and the Indian Health Service.

Additionally, the plan would extend the National Security Agency’s expiring internet surveillance program, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, through Jan. 19.

Other provisions address funding for veterans and the U.S Coast Guard, according to the measure. A U.S. House aide also said the plan would address flood insurance.

Most government programs would be temporarily extended for a month at fiscal 2017 levels. Fiscal 2018 began Oct. 1 but Congress has failed to approve any of the regular funding bills for this year and instead has kept agencies running on a temporary basis.

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