Congress clears temporary spending bill to avert shutdown
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on Congress, spending and the threat of a government shutdown (all times local):
Congress has voted to prevent a government shutdown as the House and Senate in rapid succession approved a stopgap spending bill to keep agencies running through Jan. 19.
The Senate's 66-32 vote sent the temporary funding bill to President Donald Trump with time to spare before a Friday midnight deadline. He has said he will sign it and encouraged lawmakers on Twitter to "keep our Government OPEN!"
The Senate vote followed a deceptively difficult 231-188 tally in the House that followed days of wrangling. Democrats generally opposed the measure, seeking protections for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
The measure punts most of Capitol Hill's unfinished business until January, including immigration, a potential budget agreement and health care. Then, Democrats are poised to have greater influence.
Congress has approved $2.1 billion in emergency aid for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fill a budget hole in the ailing private-sector Choice program that threatened to delay medical care for hundreds of thousands of veterans.
The money was included in the year-end temporary spending bill. It will avert a shutdown of Choice, which allows veterans to receive government-paid care from private doctors outside the VA system.
VA Secretary David Shulkin had warned that the program would run out of money next month, with a "dramatic impact" on veterans care if Congress didn't provide emergency money by year's end.
Congress is seeking to overhaul Choice, a campaign priority of President Donald Trump's. But lawmakers haven't been able to reach a longer-term agreement because of rising costs and concerns over privatizing VA.
The White House says there's a "very good chance" that President Donald Trump will sign the Republican tax overhaul package into law on Friday.
Congress cleared the way for Trump to sign the tax law when it added language to a spending bill Thursday to ensure that signing the tax package before the start of 2018 won't trigger automatic spending cuts.
Congress gave final approval to the $1.5 trillion tax package Wednesday, sending it to Trump.
The House has passed an $81 billion disaster aid measure that nearly doubles President Donald Trump's most recent request for hurricane-hit Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, along with regions of California ravaged by recent wildfires.
The 251-169 vote on Thursday sends the measure to the Senate, where changes await and a vote isn't likely until next month.
The massive measure brings the total approved this year for disaster aid to more than $130 billion. Even more is possible, especially for Puerto Rico, where many areas are still without electricity months after Maria struck the island.
Many Democrats opposed the bill, pressing for greater help for Puerto Rico and hoping to leverage their votes on the measure into victories elsewhere on the year-end agenda.
The House has narrowly passed a short-term spending bill, the first step as the Republican-led Congress tries to avert a government shutdown at midnight Friday.
The vote was 231-188 on Thursday. The stopgap bill keeps money flowing to the Pentagon and domestic agencies through Jan. 19.
The Senate still must vote.
Lawmakers were rushing to complete the bill while they punted on more contentious issues, leaving fights over health care, immigration and national security until next year.
The spending bill is combined with a $2.1 billion fix for an expiring program that pays for veterans to seek care outside the Department of Veterans Affairs system and a temporary fix to ensure states facing shortfalls from a children's health program won't have to purge children from the program.
It also contains a short-term extension for an expiring overseas wiretapping program aimed at tracking terrorists.
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are continuing to fight for an immediate solution to protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants living in the U.S. illegally and facing deportation.
More than a dozen Hispanic House members — all Democrats — forced a meeting Thursday with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. The group emerged an hour later confident that a growing number of Democratic senators will oppose the year-end spending bill unless it protects the "Dreamers."
Rep. Darren Soto of Florida said he expects a majority of Senate Democrats to oppose the spending bill, but stopped short of predicting its defeat. He said Schumer assured House members that, "If we can't get it done now, we will lay it all on the line" when Congress returns in January.
The Senate's top Democrat says he's committed to Senate passage of a temporary spending bill to prevent a government shutdown this weekend — though he's not yet backing a new House measure.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York also said he'll block any attempt to pass a separate disaster aid measure, saying changes are needed.
Schumer said he wants bargaining leverage for a host of issues being punted into next year, including the budget and immigration.
He said it's unclear what funding measures the GOP-controlled House will send to the Senate and whether or not they would be acceptable to him.
Senate Democrats hold leverage in the year-end shutdown showdown, which is a factor in GOP leaders' moves to kick so much unfinished business into the new year.
President Donald Trump is calling on House Republicans to pass a spending bill to prevent a government shutdown.
Trump says on Twitter Thursday that "House Democrats want a SHUTDOWN for the holidays in order to distract from the very popular, just passed, Tax Cuts."
Trump continues, writing "House Republicans, don't let this happen. Pass the C.R. TODAY and keep our Government OPEN!"
House Republicans early Thursday unveiled a new, stripped-down spending bill to prevent a government shutdown this weekend and allow quarreling lawmakers to punt most of their unfinished business into the new year.
GOP leaders are scrambling to rally some frustrated Republicans behind the measure, particularly defense hawks who had hoped to enact record budget increases for the Pentagon this year.
House Republicans have unveiled a new, stripped-down spending bill to prevent a government shutdown this weekend and allow lawmakers to head home for the holidays.
The GOP bill, released early Thursday, paves the way for quarreling lawmakers to punt most of their unfinished business into the new year, especially battles over the budget and immigration.
But GOP leaders are scrambling to rally some frustrated Republicans behind the measure, particularly defense hawks who had hoped to enact record budget increases for the Pentagon this year. A vote is likely Thursday and Senate passage is expected to quickly follow.
The House may also vote on an $81 billion disaster aid package that's a priority of the Texas and Florida delegations, but its fate is uncertain. The Senate would likely add to the measure and pass it next year.
Lawmakers hope to approve a must-pass spending bill on Thursday as the clock ticks toward potential government shutdown this weekend.
Despite the perilous situation, House Republican leaders are still struggling to unite the GOP rank-and-file behind a plan that would punt most of their remaining work into next year.
House GOP leaders unveiled a plan Wednesday evening at a closed-door meeting but a number of defense hawks opposed plans to put off a battle with Democrats until January.
There's still plenty of time to avert a politically debilitating shutdown of the government, and such a pratfall would detract from the party's success this week in muscling through its landmark tax bill. With Republicans controlling Washington, they would not have anyone else to blame for a shutdown debacle.