WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Congressional Republicans struggled to line up support on Thursday for a short-term extension of government funding that would avert a politically embarrassing shutdown, after President Donald Trump offered mixed signals on the stopgap plan.
Trump complicated the talks by saying a six-year extension of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a Democratic priority, should not be included. The White House later said the president fully backed the proposal pending in the House of Representatives, which includes the insurance plan.
Given opposition in both parties, it was still unclear on Thursday if Congress could head off a weekend shutdown of the federal government, which is operating on its third temporary funding extension since the 2018 fiscal year began on Oct. 1.
Negotiators have scrambled to reach a budget deal that would include Democratic efforts to protect young immigrants known as “Dreamers,” who were brought to the country illegally as children, and satisfy conservatives who want to raise spending for the military.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said they were optimistic the House later on Thursday would approve funding until Feb. 16. A procedural House vote to approve the rules for debate passed 226-194.
But some Republicans were not so certain the continuing resolution had enough support for approval.
Republican Representative Mark Meadows, who heads the conservative House Freedom Caucus, told reporters: “I promise you that’s not the case” that the speaker had enough Republican votes to pass the bill.
Questions about Trump’s support arose earlier on Thursday, when he said on Twitter that “CHIP should be part of a long term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!” That led the White House to issue a statement saying Trump was still on board with the House proposal.
Asked if Trump’s statements were making it more likely Republicans would be blamed for a shutdown, Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a frequent Trump critic, said simply: “Yes.”
With the threat of a shutdown looming, some senators began to discuss the possibility of short one- or two-day extensions to allow negotiations to continue without stopping government operations.
“I think some of our members would like to see us negotiate the bigger deal and do a short-term CR for a few days,” Republican Senator John Thune said.
PREPARING FOR THE WORST
Some government agencies began to prepare for a possible shutdown. The U.S. Government Accountability Office sent its employees a memo on Thursday warning that regular operations would cease on Monday if a shutdown occurred.
If money were to run out, many federal agencies would be shut down and workers sent home. But “essential services” dealing with public safety and national security would continue.
McConnell said he anticipated the House would pass the temporary funding bill and the Senate would take it up after that.
“Shouldn’t be a difficult vote. There’s nothing, nothing in such a continuing resolution that my Democratic friends actually oppose,” he said.
Democrats have insisted, however, a long-term spending bill must include a measure covering the “Dreamers,” who were protected from deportation under former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Trump ordered DACA to end in March and asked Congress to come up with a legislative fix. But bipartisan congressional negotiations with the White House faltered last week, prompting Republican leaders to begin pushing for the passage of the stopgap measure.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer criticized Trump for taking a trip to Pennsylvania on Thursday to campaign for a Republican House candidate rather than staying for the negotiations. He said the House bill to fund the government was “very likely to be unacceptable to the Senate.”
Schumer said Trump’s changing positions on government spending and an immigration measure were impeding progress in Congress.
“The one thing standing in our way is the unrelenting flow of chaos on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue (the White House). It has reduced the Republicans to shambles. They don’t know who to negotiate with,” he said in a Senate floor speech.
Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate and most legislation, including spending bills or an immigration deal, will require 60 votes to pass.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is involved in the immigration negotiations, and conservative colleague Mike Rounds have said they will not vote for a short-term funding bill.
Some Republicans have argued a shutdown would hurt military readiness by disrupting supply chains and complicating planning and contracts.
Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey, Amanda Becker and Blake Brittain; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Peter Cooney