WASHINGTON — Congress approved a short-term spending measure Thursday to keep government open two weeks beyond Friday when money runs out, to give both parties’ leaders more time to cut a deal on funding for the next nine months.
The House approved the stop-gap bill, which lasts through Dec. 22, in a 235 to 193 vote, with all but one Democrat voting against it and all but a handful of conservative Republicans voting for it. The Senate passed the measure in a bipartisan 81-14 vote.
But a tough fight remains ahead for both parties’ leaders on the Hill, with deep divisions on several issues that must be negotiated in a short time while the Republican majority resolves differences in the House and Senate tax bill and approve it by Christmas.
Those issues include the budget, a children’s health program and hurricane disaster aid to Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida, and, for Democrats and several Republicans, protections for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.
Before the votes, President Donald Trump hosted a meeting with the four top leaders in Congress to begin negotiations on the longer-term spending bill — a week after Democrats boycotted a White House meeting last week after Trump said there would be no deal.
“We’re here in the spirit of let’s get it done,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
After the meeting, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that everyone “agreed on the need for eliminating the defense sequester to deal with the grave national security threats we face.”
The Republicans leaders said immigration-related negotiations on issues like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which Trump said would expire in March, should take place separate from the government funding bill, Huckabee Sanders said.
Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in their statement that they had settled “nothing specific” in the meeting. But they said the final deal should include the bipartisan goal to “strengthen our national defense with parity for our domestic budget.”
Earlier Thursday, Pelosi said “We will not leave here without a DACA fix.” But she also said, “Democrats are not willing to shut the government down.”
Schumer said, “Nobody here wants to see a shutdown. We Democrats are not interested in one.”
If the government does close because of lack of money, the blame will fall on Trump and Republicans, who control the White House and Congress, Schumer added.
The four leaders, along with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary James Mattis, planned to discuss an agreement has eluded them.
Republicans put a priority on raising spending levels for defense at the expense of non-defense spending, and Democrats insist that the increase be at the same level for both defense and non-defense spending.
The group moved to the Situation Room where Mattis gave them an update on the military, Huckabee Sanders said.
“The president and the Republicans in the House and Senate are eager to pass a bill fully funding the federal government and the military,” she told reporters. “With the threats we are facing, our national security should not be held hostage for irresponsible demands.”