Republicans offer stop-gap to avert US government shutdown

House Speaker Paul Ryan said he was "confident we'll be able to pass a short-term extension".
House Speaker Paul Ryan said he was "confident we'll be able to pass a short-term extension".PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Republican congressional leaders expressed confidence on Thursday (April 27) that a short-term stop-gap spending measure that funds federal operations will pass, easing the threat of a government shutdown as Donald Trump marks his 100th day as president.

The Republican-controlled Congress has struggled to meet a midnight Friday deadline to strike a final deal on funding through September 30, the end of the fiscal year.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan said he was "confident we'll be able to pass a short-term extension" that gives Congress some breathing room - until May 5 - to wrap up negotiations without forcing a shutdown.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen announced the so-called continuing resolution, or CR, on Wednesday, saying it would keep the government lights on for the next several days as negotiators "finalise legislation to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year."

The stop-gap bill must pass the House and Senate before Saturday to avoid a shutdown.

Democrats and Republicans have squared off in debates over priorities that the White House had wanted included in the new spending bill, such as funding for a border wall and increased defence spending, as well as Democrats' demand to maintain cost-sharing arrangements that help low-income Americans purchase health insurance.

Trump, eager to avoid the lousy optics of a budget clash at his 100-day mark, which falls on Saturday, has retreated from a demand to fund a wall on the southern US border with Mexico, although lawmakers stress that broader border security will be part of the package.

Trump injected himself smack into the middle of negotiations with a Thursday tweetstorm.

In seven morning postings, the billionaire businessman-turned-politician assailed several of the Democrats' positions, including the opposition party's refusal to fund the wall and call for a bailout of debt-saddled Puerto Rico.

"I promise to rebuild our military and secure our border. Democrats want to shut down the government. Politics!" Trump tweeted.

"The Democrats want to shut government if we don't bail out Puerto Rico and give billions to their insurance companies for OCare failure. NO!"

Negotiations were ongoing, although US media reported that Trump eased his threat to withhold health subsidies paid to insurance companies under Obamacare so that premiums do not rise for low-income policyholders.

"This decision brings us closer to a bipartisan agreement to fund the government and is good news for the American people," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

But a new hurdle emerged on Thursday, when top Democrats, eager to deny Trump a 100-day victory, told Republican leaders they would oppose the temporary government funding bill if Ryan scheduled a vote this week on a revived effort to repeal Obamacare.

Ryan signalled he was not ready to schedule a health care vote for this week.

"We've not yet made any decisions on a vote," he told reporters. "We're going to go when we have the votes."