Congress Is Inching Closer to a Shutdown Over Immigration and Obamacare

The year’s most divisive fights in Congress are set to converge in a bitter partisan clash in December that could result in a U.S. government shutdown.

The unresolved battles — over a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, immigration, health-care subsidies, Planned Parenthood and storm relief — are hanging over talks on must-pass spending legislation to keep the government open after Dec. 8. The spending measure is at risk of becoming so weighted with controversial items that it collapses.

“The laundry list of things they want to put on it grows every day,” said Jim Dyer, a former House Appropriations Committee Republican staff director.

Even without contentious issues, completing a trillion-dollar spending bill in time would be a tall order.

The brewing battle could leave Republicans with no major accomplishments in President Donald Trump’s first year after they couldn’t find enough votes to repeal Obamacare. The more protracted the fight, the less time in 2017 to to overhaul the tax code, the GOP’s top priority.

There also may be pressure to raise the federal debt limit as part of a year-end package, although the Treasury Department is likely to use its authority to delay the need for an increase into early next year.

Unbridgeable policy differences might result in a push to simply extend current spending authority through fiscal 2018. That would limit military spending to $549 billion, leaving out the big boost sought by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain of Arizona and other Republican defense hawks.

‘Always a Risk’

McCain is among those threatening to take his year-end priorities to the mat. He said Wednesday that he won’t support any temporary extension of government agency spending unless the defense caps are lifted. He said a government shutdown — for the first time since 2013 — is possible.

“There’s always a risk every time we go through this cycle,” he said.

Democrats say a shutdown can be averted if Trump and congressional Republicans, including the conservative House Freedom Caucus, put aside unrealistic demands such as a ban on funds for Planned Parenthood or requiring any added hurricane-relief funds to be offset with domestic spending cuts.

“We don’t want a shutdown,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York. “Ask President Trump. Ask our hard-right Freedom Caucus types.”

By Laura Litvan for Bloomberg
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