President Donald Trump will meet with congressional leaders from both parties Thursday to negotiate on a long-term budget deal as Congress prepares to pass a stopgap spending measure to avoid a U.S. government shutdown Saturday.

The House is expected to vote on a two-week spending bill to keep the government open through Dec. 22, with Senate action coming by Friday. That measure is intended to buy time for Congress and the president to agree on overall levels for defense and non-defense spending for the next two years.

Trump said Wednesday that a shutdown could happen Saturday because of Democratic demands, although House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi responded that Democrats aren’t seeking a shutdown.

They’ll be joined in Thursday’s meeting by House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Democrats want any defense increases to be matched with equal amounts of domestic spending, and they want to provide legal status for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Trump and other Republicans say immigration must be dealt with separately.

Pelosi of California and Schumer of New York backed out of a meeting with Trump scheduled for last week after the president said on Twitter, “I don’t see a deal!” Pelosi responded that “his verbal abuse will no longer be tolerated.”

Representative Mark Meadows, leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, whose members have balked at previous spending bills, said he fully expected Thursday’s stopgap measure to pass.

If Trump and the lawmakers can agree on overall budget limits, one option will be to pair the pact with a second short-term spending bill to keep the government open from Dec. 22 into sometime in January. That stopgap measure could be combined with legislation shoring up Obamacare insurance markets and extending a children’s health insurance program.

In January, Congress would then hash out the remaining details of a trillion-dollar omnibus spending bill to comply the budget outline.

Read more: What Shuts Down During a U.S. Government Shutdown

House GOP leaders this week overrode conservatives who wanted Thursday’s bill to extend current spending for three weeks instead of two, in an effort to gain more leverage over Democrats.

As part of the continuing talks, Meadows of North Carolina said the House Freedom Caucus wants to attach the full-year 2018 defense spending bill to the stopgap spending bill that would keep the rest of the government open only until January. The defense measure, H.R. 3219, would give the Defense Department $584.2 billion in discretionary funding and $73.9 billion in war funding — more than the current $522 billion cap for the Pentagon.

But even if that proposal passed the House, it wouldn’t fly in the Senate where Democratic votes are needed to enact spending bills.

Democratic Resistance

Dick Durbin

Photographer: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg

Second-ranking Senate Democrat Dick Durbin said his party won’t support a full-year defense bill without funding the other government agencies.

“We can’t be selective,” Durbin of Illinois said in an interview. Democrats’ goal is to retain equal funding for domestic programs, he added.

Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island said on Tuesday that passing a full-year spending bill only for defense would shortchange other national security operations such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and activities of the State Department.

Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, a leader of the moderate Tuesday Group of Republicans, said the Freedom Caucus strategy is doomed and a waste of time. “They will just strip out the defense bill and send it back,” he predicted. 

Meadows acknowledged the difficulty, but said the move might succeed if it were paired with aid for hurricane-struck areas and a children’s health insurance bill — both priorities for Democrats.

This week’s stopgap spending measure, H.J.Res. 123, would extend children’s health insurance funding and the National Flood Insurance Program to the end of this year.

The bill wouldn’t raise the nation’s debt limit, which is currently suspended and comes back into effect Friday. The Congressional Budget Office has said the Treasury Department can use extraordinary measures to extend borrowing through late March or early April.

— With assistance by John Fitzpatrick


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