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Threat of a government shutdown looms as Congress returns from recess

Updated April 21, 2017 - 7:50 pm

WASHINGTON — A spending bill and a threatened government shutdown will greet Congress when it returns from a recess next week.

Negotiators have been working during the break to resolve priorities between the House, Senate and White House to stave off a shutdown if all sides do not agree on a comprehensive spending bill when funding runs out on April 28.

President Donald Trump said Thursday that he expects Congress to approve the spending bill next week.

“I think we want to keep the government open,” Trump said during a joint news conference at the White House with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said before the recess that bipartisan negotiations were underway and that he expected an agreement that would allow the House and Senate to vote on a budget deal to keep the government funded until Sept. 30, when the new fiscal year begins.

But Trump has proposed rescissions in budgets at federal agencies, increased military spending and funds for a border wall that could break a deal forged by lawmakers.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called any proposed funding for a border wall in the spending agreement for 2017, which began last October, a non-starter.

And a Trump pledge to stop funding for health care subsidies to insurers, as called for under the Affordable Care Act, has also drawn opposition from Democrats.

Schumer has threatened to pull his party’s support in the Senate, which would stall the bill in the upper chamber and force a shutdown of the government, something Republican leaders and the White House say they do not want.

But the proposed rescissions could cost votes from lawmakers whose states would be affected by cuts to federal programs.

One rescission proposed by the Trump administration is $230 million from the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act, known as SNPLMA, which allows the Bureau of Land Management to sell land around Las Vegas.

The proceeds are used by the Interior Department for local projects in the state as well as revenue to the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Nevada General Education Fund. More than $3.4 billion has been spent on more than 1,200 conservation projects in Nevada.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., has asked Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to protect the program from rescission and future budget cuts.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., called the rescission “one more proposal on a list of ill-advised Republican schemes.”

Lawmakers said many of the proposed rescissions were merely suggestions by the Office of Management and Budget on cuts that could offset additional spending items.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the administration has told Capitol Hill that it wants to see new spending priorities and cuts from the 2017 spending in the bill when Congress returns.

Spicer said “discussions have been ongoing with House and Senate leaders as we approach this deadline.”

“The president’s priorities are very well-known, what he wants to do in terms of both military and homeland security,” Spicer said.

McConnell said Democrats will be important to the process to avoid a shutdown. It will take 60 votes in the Senate to advance a bill in the chamber for final approval.

The Republican leader also said Congress would be blamed for a shutdown and not the president, despite his proposals that were not included in past negotiations and have drawn opposition by Democrats and the shutdown threats.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, forced the last government shutdown when he held up a spending bill over a vote to repeal Obamacare in 2013.

Congress failed to pass annual spending bills to fund the government last year, instead agreeing to stopgap continuing resolutions that provided funding to federal departments and agencies at 2016 levels.

Last year, lawmakers included an increase in military spending sought by the Pentagon for readiness programs.

Trump and the military are again seeking a spending increase in a catchall bill for the rest of the year.

Contact Gary Martin at 202-662-7390 or gmartin@reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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