WASHINGTON - The prognosis to avert a government shutdown looks promising for now, as House Republicans prepare to put a short-term spending bill on the floor Thursday to keep the federal government running for another two weeks.
But all eyes will be on the White House, where President Donald Trump and top congressional leaders will meet and hope to resolve longstanding policy differences so a Congress can pass a long-term spending bill by Christmas. And that's no sure thing.
Republican aides and members in the House say they're confident they have enough GOP votes to pass the stopgap bill -- a positive sign for Republican leaders that the early showdown by the conservative House Freedom Caucus has ended. Republican leaders and Freedom Caucus principals had several meetings Wednesday, with aides and members describing the talks as a positive step to moving forward on the two-week measure. According to one GOP House aide, members were even told they could expect to go home Thursday instead of Friday if they got their work done ahead of the deadline.
However, the major obstacle is what comes after December 22, when the government runs out of money once again.
For that, aides say a meeting between congressional leaders and Trump on Thursday will set the tone for negotiations moving forward with all eyes on whether the President shows up ready to play deal-maker or instigator. Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer already canceled a previous meeting with Trump after the President tweeted that he didn't see any way forward on a deal.
The hurdle will be not only what Republican leaders in the House can negotiate with their own members, a delicate balance as they seek to ensure nothing disrupts their progress on their tax bill, but also what Republicans can negotiate with Democrats.
There is a growing recognition on Capitol Hill that including immigration provisions to protect DACA recipients in the year-end spending bill could be a deal breaker for Republicans even as some Democrats in the House have threatened to vote against a spending package that doesn't include it.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, said the liberal base would erupt if Pelosi and Schumer agreed to a deal that doesn't address DACA. "There'd be no tolerance. I mean, that would be an act of betrayal," he said.
The reality is, in the Senate, DACA may not be make or break. The thinking is that Republicans could likely still win over eight Democratic senators -- the number they'd need to pass it-- even without a DACA fix.
Lawmakers are still unsure what would be included in another spending package, saying that there are a myriad of possibilities at this point as leaders and their staff continue negotiating the spending caps for the bill.
"(There will be) some kind of package. What all's in it? I don't know," said Rep. Mark Sanford, a conservative from South Carolina.
House Freedom Caucus members have been pushing for assurances from leadership that the spending bill on December 22 would include some kind of increase in defense spending while domestic spending would stay the same. However, there is little reason to believe a package like that would win 60 Senate votes to pass. HFC members are also asking at this point for GOP leaders to accelerate the timeline on tax reform.
"There are a number of things, we're trying to make sure that the time frame for tax reform is very aggressive and strong. ... We want to make sure tax reform is sped up, there are three or four things that we want to make sure get addressed in the tax reform changes. They're not unique to the Freedom Caucus but just important things that have to be done," said Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina. "And then ultimately is not only the second step of funding but what is the third and fourth and fifth step if necessary, and making sure that we fully understand those and how we best make sure that we make good conservative fiscal decisions."
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