CAPITOL HILL —
The U.S. House of Representatives has adjourned until next week without forging an agreement on a massive government spending bill. The $1 trillion spending bill has to be passed by both the House and Senate by December 11 to avoid a possible partial government shutdown.
Closed-door negotiations are still going on among Republicans, who are crafting the bill as the majority party. Talks are focused on which so-called policy riders – or special interest measures – will be attached to the spending bill.
During the last budget negotiations in late September, a Republican policy rider defunding the women’s health care and abortion provider Planned Parenthood threatened to trigger a shutdown, which was averted by a temporary measure keeping the government funded only until December 11.
Among the policy additions causing controversy this time are deregulation measures Democrats say would undo provisions to protect the nation’s clean air and water, and measures on Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
President Obama has said he would veto any bill that halts the resettlement of Iraqi and Syrian refugees, saying they are already subject to exhaustive screening procedures and it would send the wrong signal about American values.
At Thursday’s White House briefing, press secretary Josh Earnest said Republicans are risking a government shutdown because of special interest riders that benefit the biggest firms on Wall Street and companies that are the biggest polluters of Americans’ air and water.
Earnest said the president is not going to go along with that and he does not think that Americans will either. He said Republicans are going to have to demonstrate that they will work in a bipartisan way, and if they don’t, he said: “We’re looking at another government shutdown.”
No. 1 Priority
Some House Republicans say their top priority in this current round of budget negotiations is attaching a measure requiring tougher screening of Iraqi and Syrian refugees to the spending bill.
At a conservative forum Wednesday, Republican Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, said: “Our No. 1 priority is the Syrian refugee bill.”
He and other House Freedom Caucus members said the fact that the House passed a bill calling for a pause in the Obama administration’s Syrian Resettlement Program – with 47 Democrats voting for it – gives Republicans a strong starting position in what could turn into another budget showdown.
The House bill bars refugees from Syria and Iraq from entering the United States unless top administration officials personally certify they pose no security threat, which officials say would effectively bar their entry. The refugee bill passed with a veto-proof majority in the House, but has not been taken up in the Senate.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday that the spending bill Republicans sent to Democrats is full of policy riders: “What they sent us back takes your breath away…This is a [Conservative Republican] Tea Party policy wish list.”
U.S. Visa Waiver Program
Pelosi said she and other Democrats do however support a Republican bill that would tighten the visa waver program which allows some 20 million foreigners from friendly countries to come to the United States each year without a visa.
The Republican bill would deny visa waivers to people who traveled to Iraq and Syria in the last five years, or have dual citizenship with those countries.
It would also require the issue of difficult-to-forge passports with data chips. Republican Majority leader Kevin McCarthy said there will be a vote on the bill next week, but added it is not yet clear whether it will be a stand-alone measure or attached to the spending bill. There also is bipartisan support in the Senate for changes to the visa waver program.
Unless both the House and Senate pass at least a temporary spending bill next week, some government agencies would begin to close after midnight on December 11.