Hours from deadline, US Congress set to vote to avert shutdown

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WASHINGTON – US lawmakers braced for crunch votes Thursday on a deal to keep the federal government open past a midnight deadline, as rebellion simmered among both Republicans and Democrats over the bipartisan budget agreement struck to end the logjam.

Senators were expected to take up and pass the breakthrough bill later Thursday, and then send it to the House of Representatives — which will barely have time to debate it before government funding expires at midnight.

The measure’s fate in the House is uncertain, raising tensions in Washington as Congress scrambles to avoid what would be a second government shutdown in three weeks.

With party unity fraying in the lower chamber over the deal, House Speaker Paul Ryan appeared to shrug off concerns that several Republicans might oppose the deal.

“I feel good about it,” Ryan said in a radio interview about the upcoming vote. “I think we’re going to be fine.”

Earlier Thursday, the Senate voted to block a separate defense spending measure — that also included short-term federal funding — largely because it failed to fund domestic programs along with the military.

So it will now take up a revised six-week temporary spending bill that includes the major budget deal struck Wednesday between Senate leaders on both sides of the political aisle.

That agreement includes a significant $300 billion increase to both military and non-military spending limits for this year and 2019, and raises the debt ceiling until March 1 next year.

That would break the cycle of showdowns over government funding in time for what is expected to be a bruising campaign season ahead of November’s mid-term elections.

The bill also provides a massive $90 billion in disaster relief following deadly 2017 storms in Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas, and funding to address the nationwide opioid abuse crisis.

“Not only will it end this series of… fiscal crises that have gridlocked this body, it will also deliver a large investment in our military and robust funding of middle-class programs,” the Senate’s top Democrat Chuck Schumer told colleagues.

“It’s a strong signal that we can break the gridlock that has overwhelmed this body and work together for the good of the country.”

The measure is widely expected to pass the Senate, but could face stiff blowback in the House, where fiscal conservatives may balk at adding billions of dollars to the national debt two months after passing a $1.5 trillion tax cut package.

– ‘Real commitment’ on immigration –

On Wednesday, the House Freedom Caucus of far-right Republicans foretold possible roadblocks ahead, officially opposing the budget caps deal.

“We support funding our troops, but growing the size of government by 13 percent is not what the voters sent us here to do,” the group said on Twitter.

Liberal stalwarts were also in revolt because the deal does nothing to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Democrats have long pursued a strategy to link the federal funding debate to a permanent solution for hundreds of thousands of “Dreamer” immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.

Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi highlighted the concerns Wednesday with an extraordinary eight-hour address, the chamber’s longest in more than a century, in which she called on Ryan to take action on immigration.

“Our Dreamers hang in limbo, with a cruel cloud of fear and uncertainty above them,” Pelosi said.

The Dreamers were shielded from deportation under the Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). But Trump ended the program last September, and set March 5 as a deadline for resolving the issue.

Facing tightening numbers for Thursday’s vote, Ryan assured that he was prepared to address the immigration issue head on.

“I know that there is a real commitment to solving the DACA challenge in both political parties. That’s a commitment that I share,” Ryan told reporters Thursday.

“To anyone who doubts my intention to solve this problem and bring up a DACA and immigration reform bill: do not.”

The White House plan — which would put 1.8 million immigrants on a path to citizenship, boost border security, and dramatically curtail legal immigration — has been panned by Democrats.

A series of bipartisan efforts have stalled.

AFP

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