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Senate clears spending bill, averts shutdown

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence meet with House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Chuck Schumer in the Oval Office on Thursday. | Olivier Douliery/Pool/Getty Images

President Donald Trump and congressional leaders also met at the White House in hopes of reaching a broader budget agreement.


UPDATE 6:22 p.m.:

The Senate passed a two-week funding bill, staving off a government shutdown a day ahead of the deadline.

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Senators approved the measure on a 81-14 vote, soon after the House passed it. The move punts a tough political battle over spending and immigration until just before Christmas.

Original story:

House Republicans passed a stopgap spending bill Thursday to ward off a government shutdown Friday. But GOP leaders on both sides of the Capitol face a turbulent next few weeks as they try to clinch a broader budget deal with Democrats by the end of the year.

The measure passed the House 235-193, after GOP leaders overcame conservative objections that threatened to tank the measure. The Senate is expected to follow suit quickly on the bill, which keeps the federal government open through Dec. 22.

But the biggest hurdles have yet to come. Republicans know they need Democrats to pass any broader spending agreement to fund the government through 2018, and Democrats are flexing their muscles and making significant policy demands for their votes. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reiterated in a press conference Thursday that she wants deportation relief for Dreamers as part of the negotiations.

“We will not leave here without a DACA fix,” the California Democrat said.

President Donald Trump met with the “Big Four” congressional leaders — Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — at the White House on Thursday afternoon in a bid to jump-start negotiations over a two-year budget deal.

The shutdown dance comes as Republican leaders and the White House are pushing to finish work on a trillion-dollar-plus tax cut plan being hashed out by House and Senate tax writers. Ryan and McConnell are hoping to buy enough time in the budget talks to complete work on the tax bill, all while mollifying their defense hawks and conservative hard-liners in the House Freedom Caucus. And that’s to say nothing of Democratic demands for a deal to help hundreds of thousands of Dreamers who face possible deportation next year, as well as a host of other controversial policy issues.

A budget agreement, which would raise spending levels for both defense and non-defense spending, has eluded Congress and the White House so far, as the two parties are far apart on a number of policy issues, including the overall funding targets. Democrats want parity for any defense and non-defense spending boost, while Republicans want to see the Pentagon get the bulk of any spending increase. The fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protecting young undocumented immigrants is also a key question. Staff-level talks have yielded progress on a number of areas, yet sources involved in the discussions say it’s now time for the principals — Trump and the party leaders — to find out whether they can reach a compromise.

With government funding running out on Friday, the White House endorsed the two-week spending bill in a statement on Wednesday night, another sign Congress should be able to avoid a shutdown at week’s end. Yet the Trump administration reiterated its position that military and national security funding — including a border wall — “must be prioritized” in any broader spending package.

A senior administration official said Trump’s main push when he meets with the Big Four Thursday will be to keep DACA out of the budget deal, increase defense spending without boosting non-defense funding, and get Democrats to agree to allow his hugely controversial border wall project.

That, Democrats say, is a White House pipedream. During a Thursday speech on the floor, Schumer said Trump and Republicans will have to be open to real negotiations in order to reach a budget deal, and added that the GOP would pay politically if there is a shutdown.

“Congressional negotiators are making good headway on a budget deal that would meet our commitments to our military and also urgent priorities here at home,” Schumer said in a floor speech Thursday.

“Unfortunately, the progress here in Congress is in stark contrast to the rhetoric coming from the White House. President Trump again suggested yesterday that ‘a shutdown could happen.’ If a shutdown happens, as the president seemed to be rooting for in a tweet earlier this year, it will fall on his shoulders. His party controls the Senate, the House, and the presidency.”

But first, Republicans had to put up the 217 votes to keep the government open Thursday — not an easy feat for a conference populated with conservatives who rarely vote for any spending bills.

That’s why Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other GOP leaders spent much of Wednesday huddling with conservative hard-liners unhappy with the leadership plan to avert a shutdown. McCarthy even brought in McConnell to talk to frustrated rank-and-file members grumbling about the strategy at one point.

By Thursday morning, however, House GOP leaders were predicting the continuing resolution would pass, even without Democratic votes.

Jennifer Scholtes and Nancy Cook contributed to this report.

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