By ALAN FRAM
WASHINGTON (AP) — A leading conservative in the U.S. House said on Thursday that Republicans have the votes needed to approve legislation preventing a partial shutdown of the government over the weekend.
With adoption by the Senate also considered likely, the remarks by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., seemed to erase any doubt that Congress would approve legislation keeping federal agencies afloat through Dec. 22. Their money will run out at midnight Friday without approval of fresh funding.
But hours before President Donald Trump was to bargain with congressional leaders at the White House over long-term budget decisions, Meadows, who heads the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, says the group would oppose any agreement they feel allows excessive federal spending.
“I want to avoid a headline that says President Trump’s administration just passes the highest spending levels in U.S. history,” Meadows told two reporters. “There will be zero support on numbers that are too high, regardless of anybody’s position on that.”
Meadows said House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., told him Republicans have the votes they’ll need to approve the short-term spending measure Thursday. Freedom Caucus members will most likely give leaders whatever votes they need to pass the legislation, Meadows said.
Many conservatives had been threatening to oppose the measure. Meadows says they’ll help it pass to avoid distractions from the GOP drive to push their $1.5 trillion tax bill through Congress this month.
He also says House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., promised he’d fight in coming weeks to pass a full-year budget for the military and leave fights with Democrats over domestic spending for later. It is unclear how that plan would work, since Republicans control the Senate 52-48 and will need at least eight Democratic votes to pass any spending legislation.
In another brewing battle, Meadows said conservatives would strongly oppose any spending bill with provisions extending protections for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. Trump ended safeguards against deportation three months ago, but Democrats are demanding their revival and Trump has expressed openness to restoring them.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters Thursday that lawmakers “will not leave here” without approval of language helping those immigrants.
The prospects for successful White House talks were buffeted Wednesday when the impulsive Trump blurted to reporters that a shutdown “could happen.” He blamed Democrats, saying they want “illegal immigrants pouring into our country, bringing with them crime, tremendous amounts of crime.”
Last week, an unexpected attack by Trump on Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Pelosi prompted the two to skip a bargaining session that was planned then.
This time, the White House smoothed the waters by following up with a more peaceable, written statement. It praised Pelosi and Schumer for choosing to “put their responsibility to the American people above partisanship” and said Trump was anticipating productive talks between “leaders who put their differences aside.”
Later, the White House issued another statement indicating Trump would sign the two-week spending extension. It also laid out administration budget goals, saying money for the military, including missile defense and security along the border with Mexico, “must be prioritized in a long-term funding agreement.”
For Republicans, a shutdown would put a humiliating bookend on a year in which they’ve controlled the White House and Congress with little to show for it. But they seem on track for a major win by sending their tax measure to Trump, they hope by Christmas.
The two-week spending bill also makes money available to several states that are running out of funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. That widely popular program provides medical care to more than 8 million children.
While many Democrats seemed likely to oppose the short-term bill, enough were expected to support it in the Senate to allow its passage there. They know they’d still have leverage on subsequent bills needed to keep the government running.
Democrats have been using their leverage to insist on spending boosts for health care, infrastructure and other domestic programs that would match increases Republicans want for defense.