House Republicans, Democrats blame each other as possible shutdown nears

Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., speaks to KATV from Capitol Hill on Jan. 17, 2018. (SBG)

House Republicans cast blame on Democrats Wednesday for inserting thorny and unrelated immigration issues into budget negotiations and triggering a stalemate that could result in a government shutdown this week.

“We don’t want the Democrats to force a shutdown of the government and force our military not to get their pay,” said Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y.

Lawmakers face a Friday deadline to approve either a long-term budget or a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open. House GOP leaders unveiled a proposal Tuesday night that provides funding through mid-February, extends a children’s health care program for six years, and delays two taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act.

Some conservative Republicans say it does not go far enough, but others are on board.

“I am supporting it...,” said Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas. “It will allow us the time to get a deal on DACA, a deal on the two-year spending levels, as well as being able to unleash the appropriations committee on a more timely basis going forward.”

“It would avoid shutting the government down,” he added, “which is in no one’s real interest.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was unimpressed by the House GOP’s offering.

“It doesn’t give help needed for our veterans who wait in line for service; it doesn’t fight opioid addiction, doesn’t help our pensioners, and it doesn’t give Defense what it needs either,” Schumer tweeted. “It’s a loser.”

Democrats have demanded that the status of so-called Dreamers, young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, be addressed in any deal that ensures government funding beyond Friday. Republicans insist they are open to a compromise that protects those who benefited from the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but it must be dealt with separately from budget matters.

“There is no danger to the DACA program,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn. “This is something the Democrats have thrown up to confuse the process.”

While Democrats believe the funding standoff gives them leverage in immigration negotiations, Republicans say there is simply no need to resolve the Dreamers’ situation this week. President Trump announced last fall that he will end the program in March if Congress does not extend it.

“Democrats are really ferociously trying to shut down the government over the so-called DACA fix, and that’s actually not due until March,” Tenney said.

She is among the co-sponsors of a proposal spearheaded by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., that would fulfill President Trump’s demands on border security and legal immigration while only offering a renewable three-year work permit for Dreamers.

According to Conaway, Goodlatte’s deal offers something for everyone.

“Immigration and immigration reform is one of those issues where compromise will be required,” Conaway said. “No one person will get it exactly the way they want it.”

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, said he has picked up a total of 50 co-sponsors from both parties for his own immigration compromise, which would provide a path to citizenship for DACA recipients while bolstering border security.

Bipartisan negotiations on DACA have been hindered by the president’s flat rejection of a moderate compromise presented by senators last week and his reported use of vulgar terms to denigrate immigrants from Africa and Haiti in an Oval Office meeting.

Democrats have seized on Trump’s words to question his motives and his sincerity in claiming he wants a deal, but Trump has blasted Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., for making his private comments public and, he claims, misrepresenting them.

Republicans insist discussions are progressing and an agreement on DACA that is acceptable to both sides can still be reached once funding for the military, children’s healthcare, and other vital programs is approved.

“This should in no way, no way be involved with the discussions keeping the government open,” Fleischmann said.

Democrats maintain that the party in control of the House, the Senate, and the White House bears all responsibility if the government shuts down.

“I think a shutdown reflects failure,” said Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y. “It’s a statement of complete and utter inability to govern, and it’s a fact that Republicans control the House and Senate and they occupy the White House. Given that they have that strength in every one of those areas of leadership, it’s in their hands to be able to put together a package that will avoid a shutdown.”

Republicans say Democrats are the ones who will look unreasonable if they oppose funding the government in mid-January over a program for undocumented immigrants that will remain in place until at least March.

“Let’s see what comes out of these discussions,” Fleischmann said, “but for Democrats to try to hold the government being open hostage for this, I think the American people will rebuke that.”

Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., blamed the budget standoff on Senate rules that require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, meaning Republicans need nine Democratic votes for most legislation.

“There’s two solutions,” he said. “The Republican senators there can either change the rule and make it a simple majority vote or you can get nine Democrats on board to get a bill on the floor.”

Westerman signaled resistance to any immigration compromise that provides an expedited route to citizenship for Dreamers.

“There is a pathway to citizenship for people who want to immigrate to our country legally,” he said, “and if we can get the DACA children in line--not in front of the line--but on that immigration pathway that’s part of federal law, then we should afford them that opportunity.”

Immigration hardliners in the House and Senate are pushing for more concessions from Democrats to reform the immigration system if they allow the 800,000 DACA recipients to stay in the country.

“I’m confident we’ll come up with a solution,” Westerman said. “It just wont be Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi’s solution to grant amnesty to everyone.”

Members of both parties emphasized Wednesday that they do not want to see the government shut down, but according to Tonko, the onus remains on Republicans to find a way to prevent it.

“I don’t stand for a government shutdown,” he said, “but again, the Republicans are fully in control.”

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