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Tuesday, Jul 17, 2018
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Congress clears temporary spending bill to avert shutdown

WASHINGTON ó The Republican-led Congress narrowly passed a temporary spending bill Thursday to avert a government shutdown, doing the bare minimum in a sprint toward the holidays and punting disputes on immigration, health care and the budget to next year.

The measure passed the House on a 231-188 vote over Democratic opposition and then cleared the Senate, 66-32, with Democrats from Republican-leaning states providing many of the key votes. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the measure.

The stopgap legislation would keep the government from closing down at midnight today. It has traversed a tortured path, encountering resistance from the GOPís most ardent allies of the military, as well as opposition from Democrats who demanded but were denied a vote on giving immigrants brought to the country as children and in the country illegally an opportunity to become citizens.

The wrapup measure allows Republicans controlling Washington to savor their win on this weekís $1.5 trillion tax package ó even as they kick a full lineup of leftover work into the new year. Congress will return in January facing enormous challenges on immigration, the federal budget, health care and national security along with legislation to increase the governmentís authority to borrow money.

Each of those items is sure to test the unity that Republicans are enjoying now.

"Now it gets down to some very difficult decisions on how we move forward in the first and second quarter of next year," said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a leader of a powerful faction of hard-right Republicans known as the Freedom Caucus. "There is a lot to do next month. Iím not worried today. Iíll wait until January to be worried, okay?"

Democrats had initially pressed for adding their priorities to the measure, but once rebuffed on immigration they worked to keep the bill mostly free of add-ons, figuring that theyíll hold greater leverage next month.

Among the items left behind was $81 billion worth of disaster aid, which passed the House on a bipartisan 251-169 tally but stalled in the Senate. The measure would have brought this yearís tally for aid to hurricane victims in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean, as well as fire-ravaged California, to more than $130 billion. But both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate want changes, and it was among the items Democrats sought to hold onto for leverage next year.

"Democrats want to make sure that we have equal bargaining, and weíre not going to allow things like disaster relief go forward without discussing some of the other issues we care about," said powerful Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Immigration is among the most difficult issues confronting lawmakers in January, thrust upon them in September after Trump rescinded a Barack Obama order giving these so-called Dreamers protection against deportation, though he gave Congress a March deadline to come up with a legislative solution.

"They embody the best in our nation: patriotism, hard work, perseverance," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California told the chamberís Rules Committee on Thursday. "We should not leave them to celebrate the holidays in fear."

Trump and Republicans are pushing for additional border security and other immigration steps in exchange.

"The vast majority of Republicans want to see a DACA solution. They just want to see a DACA solution thatís balanced," said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., referring to the programís name, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

Also left unfinished were bipartisan efforts to smash budget limits that are imposing a freeze on the Pentagon and domestic agencies, a long-term extension of the popular Childrenís Health Insurance Program for 9 million low-income kids and Senate legislation aimed at stabilizing health insurance markets.

"At some point weíve got to make the hard decisions," said Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota.

Instead, lawmakers struggled to achieve the must-do: a $2.1 billion fix for an expiring program that pays for veterans to seek care outside the Department of Veterans Affairs system; a temporary fix to ensure states facing shortfalls from the Childrenís Health Insurance Program wonít have to purge children from the program; and a short-term extension for an expiring overseas wiretapping program aimed at tracking terrorists.

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