Congress scrambles to keep government running before Friday deadline

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and other lawmakers hold a news conference on Capitol Hill on Dec. 12. House Republicans are pushing toward a stopgap spending bill to keep the government funded through mid-January. (Al Drago/Getty Images)

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and other lawmakers hold a news conference on Capitol Hill on Dec. 12. House Republicans are pushing toward a stopgap spending bill to keep the government funded through mid-January. (Al Drago/Getty Images)

Updated at 12:30 p.m. ET

After a monumental legislative victory on taxes this week, Republicans in Congress are now scrambling to avoid a chaotic government shutdown that could overshadow their signature tax bill before it even gets signed into law.

House Republicans unveiled a spending bill early Thursday morning that would push a deadline to fund the government back, from midnight on Friday to Jan. 19, allowing lawmakers to head home for the holidays without resolving much of their unfinished business.

“The number of options is collapsing down,” said Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., according to the AP. “I have faith that at the last possible moment, to paraphrase Churchill, when we have no other choice, we’ll do what we need to do.”

President Trump sought to toss blame for the tense moment at congressional Democrats on Twitter Thursday morning.

The continuing resolution, or C.R., that Republicans in the House released on Thursday would punt tough decisions related to government spending, immigration and defense into the first part of the new year.

It would extend short-term authorizations for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, as well as the Veterans Choice Program, which allows veterans to receive health care at community providers outside of the V.A. system.

The bill would also temporarily extend a controversial provision in the FISA Amendments Act, known as “Section 702,” which was set to expire at the end of the year. The FBI and other intelligence agencies have said it is critical to fighting terrorism.

The stopgap bill includes a nod to defense hawks in Congress who were hoping for caps on defense spending to be lifted, another point of friction with Democrats being delayed. It provides funds to repair two naval ships that were damaged this year in the Pacific, as well as money to bolster ballistic missile defense.

In the new year, when bipartisan budget debates begin again, a pair of major polarizing topics loom.

Congressional Democrats, and some Republicans, are hoping for legislation to protect thousands of undocumented immigrants brought into the U.S. as children. There had been talk that Democrats could threaten a government shutdown to force a vote on the measure, known as DACA, but those whispers quieted as the deadline grew closer.

Trump ordered an end to the Obama-era protection program in September, but White House legislative affairs director Marc Short said Thursday that the president was always hoping for Congress to come up with a legislative solution.

“We believe we’ll have a resolution to that in January or February,” Short told NPR’s Rachel Martin.

And a pair of senators are poised to propose legislation to stabilize insurance markets, after the Republican tax plan zeroed out the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate that required people to buy health insurance. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, had committed to getting legislation passed by the end of the year, but she and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., have now committed to a proposal “after the first of the year.”

Collins and Alexander said in a joint statement that they would be waiting to unveil the legislation because “it has become clear that Congress will only be able to pass another short-term extension to prevent a government shutdown and to continue a few essential programs.”

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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