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To Stop a Shutdown, Congress Needs to Pass Funding Measure This Week

Lawmakers in both houses of Congress have focused most of their attention in recent weeks on passing tax reform. Those efforts have been successful so far, yielding a pair of bills that will now be considered in a conference committee.

Meanwhile, though, another concern is looming: The federal government’s authority to spend is due to expire on Dec. 8. That could lead to a government shutdown. But Republican leaders in Congress say that’s not what they want.

“Look, there’s not going to be a government shutdown,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told ABC News. “It’s just not going to happen.” Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, added that: “Continuing funding for federal operations is critical to our nation’s stability, our economy, and for the well-being of the American people.”

To keep the government open, though, lawmakers need to pass a continuing resolution. The most recent CR, agreed to by President Donald Trump and congressional leaders from both parties in September, expires this Friday.

Frelinghuysen introduced a bill to extend the deadline by two weeks, until Dec. 22. “This CR will allow for additional time for a deal on top-line spending levels for this fiscal year,” he said. “Once this agreement is made, my Committee will rapidly go to work with the Senate to complete the final legislation.” Other lawmakers are pushing to extend that deadline until Dec. 30.

The short-term fix would also keep the Children’s Health Insurance Program operating through December. CHIP provides medical care for children whose parents don’t qualify for Medicaid but don’t earn enough to pay for private coverage. The goal would be to pass another CR before Christmas that funds the government into January. “We obviously have to pass a CR,” Republican Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania told CQ (login required). “It looks like they are going to do it in two steps.” For his part, Dent plans to retire at the end of his current term.

One problem is that while a CR requires just a majority to pass in the House, it would need 60 votes to avoid a filibuster in the Senate. That means at least eight Senate Democrats must vote for it. House Speaker Paul Ryan says his party would attempt to blame Democrats if they block the CR. “And if the Senate Democrats choose to filibuster that, then they will have chosen to shut the government down, something that we do not want to see happen,” he said.

Last week, Democratic leaders Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi skipped a planned meeting at the White House after Trump tweeted, “I don’t see a deal” to prevent a shutdown. At that time, they announced, “Rather than going to the White House for a show meeting that won’t result in an agreement, we’ve asked Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan to meet this afternoon.”

However, with a Friday deadline looming, they’ve reconsidered. Both Schumer and Pelosi are scheduled to meet with Trump, Ryan and McConnell on Thursday.

“We have to provide funding for community health centers and (the Children’s Health Insurance Program), as well as relief for the millions of Americans still reeling from natural disasters,” the Democrats said in a statement. “We must also come together on a bipartisan deal to pass the DREAM Act along with tough border security measures. There is a bipartisan path forward on all of these items.”

A key point of contention is that Democrats would like to include immigration policy in the spending bill, while Republicans would prefer to focus on spending authority that would keep the government operating through next September.

Lawmakers are working to send a tax reform bill to Trump before the end of the year. Even as they press on with those efforts, they’ll also be judged on whether they can keep the government that collects the taxes running at the same time.

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