WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Wednesday again raised the possibility of a U.S. government shutdown by week's end: blaming Democrats for that possible outcome: one day before he is due to host Republican and Democratic congressional leaders for talks on a spending bill.
Trump and Congress are facing a deadline of Friday at midnight to pass a fresh spending bill. If they cannot agree on the terms, parts of the federal government could shut down.
Trump's warning about a shutdown came as conservative members of the House of Representatives pushed for increases in military spending along with either a freeze or reduction in domestic programs.
Their bid is likely to be rejected by Democrats, who make up a minority in Congress, and could further complicate months of behind-the-scenes negotiations by congressional leaders aimed at figuring out government spending for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1.
While the House potentially could pass upcoming spending bills without any Democratic support, that tactic would not work in the Senate where procedural rules give Democrats bargaining power.
As a condition of backing a new spending measure, many Democrats have demanded legislative protections for the nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States as children. Trump has criticized that condition, saying it could set the stage for an impasse.
"The Democrats are really looking at something that is very dangerous for our country," Trump told reporters at the White House. "They are looking at shutting down."
In response, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted: "President Trump is the only person talking about a government shutdown. Democrats are hopeful the president will be open to an agreement to address the urgent needs of the American people and keep government open."
The jockeying so close to Friday's deadline added suspense in Washington while Republican congressional leaders laboured to demonstrate that they can govern and spare the country the chaos of a government shutdown at Christmas time that likely would not sit well with voters.
63 PERCENT AGAINST SHUTDOWN
A partial government shutdown would leave "essential" government services operating, but could disrupt programs ranging from the operation of national parks to educational programs and scientific research.
A Politico/Morning Consult opinion poll found that 63 percent of voters want Congress to avoid any shutdown, with 18 percent in favour if it helps lawmakers achieve policy goals.
The last shutdown of federal agencies came in October 2013, when a group of conservative Republicans used the need to pass a funding bill to try to force repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The effort failed but resulted in a 17-day disruption of many federal agency activities.
Congressional leaders are hoping to pass another short-term funding bill, probably through Dec. 22, this week. That would set up a fight later this month on several controversial items, including defence funding, the immigration measure and additional disaster aid for Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida and other states.
Republican Representatives Mark Meadows, who heads the House Freedom Caucus, and Representative Mark Walker, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, are touting the effort to pump up Pentagon spending - possibly by tens of billions of dollars for just this year - without any increases to non-defence programs.
After a meeting with House Republican leaders, Meadows said Republicans want to find enough votes from their own party so that they will not need to seek the votes of House Democrats.
He said Republican might be able to win the support of a few Senate Democrats by adding sweeteners, such as disaster aid and funding for the children's health insurance programme.
But Democrats have argued that inaction on the non-defence side of the ledger would usher in a new round of automatic spending cuts for those programs next month, short-changing programs that fight opioid addiction, fund medical research, veterans programs and an array of other activities.
Walker said Republicans also want another controversial item: new work requirements for some recipients of Medicaid benefits, the healthcare programme for the poor and disabled.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Trott)