Congress Budget Talks Hobbled By Major Disagreements
By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON, Dec 10 (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress is nowhere near reaching a deal on government funding, a senior lawmaker said on Thursday, as Republicans who control both chambers struggled to meet conservative demands and show they can avoid agency shutdowns.
With a Friday midnight deadline, when money runs out, clearly impossible to meet, Republicans are maneuvering to pass a measure extending that cutoff through Wednesday. At the same time, they are negotiating with Democrats on the $1.15 trillion package to fund government through September, 2016.
Republican Representative Hal Rogers, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee that writes spending bills, said negotiations were inching forward but “We’re not close to a TD,” using the abbreviation for the American football term “touchdown.”
Controversial issues driving a wedge between Republicans and President Barack Obama’s Democrats plagued the negotiations.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said the sides were “trading offers, we’re talking to each other.” But he refused to guarantee that a deal will be reached by Wednesday.
Many, but not all, of the disagreements are related to Congress’ response to recent gun massacres in Paris and California that are in some way related to Islamic State and have riveted world attention.
Rogers said there are pressures to include a Republican initiative that would effectively hit the pause button on Obama’s Syrian refugee program.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, speaking at an event marking the third anniversary of a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, said Democrats insist the spending bill contain language ending a ban on funding for gun violence research.
It has been law since the mid-1990s, and “it’s a terrible thing,” Pelosi said, surrounded by relatives of gun violence victims.
If Congress cannot pass the funding bill by next Wednesday, it will either have to approve yet another stop-gap funding bill or risk pushing Washington into its second shutdown since 2013.
The next few days will be a test for newly installed Speaker Ryan. His predecessor John Boehner quit after five years of infighting with conservative Republicans who wanted more deficit-reduction than Boehner was able to accomplish.
In an attempt to give these hard-liners more say, House Republicans on Thursday chose one of them, Representative Tim Huelskamp, for an internal committee that influences legislation and appointments to key House positions.
It was a dramatic turnaround for Huelskamp, one of several right-wingers stripped of committee assignments under Boehner for bucking leadership initiatives. (Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; editing by Andrew Hay and Chizu Nomiyama)