Donald Trump faces off against Democrats over potential US government shutdown

US President Donald Trump and Republican congressional leaders will be joined by US House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer in a high-stakes White House meeting intended to bridge differences over a spending bill. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US President Donald Trump will face off with Democratic leaders of Congress on Thursday (Dec 7) in a high-stakes White House meeting intended to bridge differences over a spending Bill and preventing a government shutdown.

US House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer will join Trump and Republican congressional leaders for talks after cancelling a similarly planned meeting last week when the president posted a note on Twitter attacking their policy positions.

Trump and Congress are facing a deadline of midnight Friday to pass new spending legislation or trigger the closure of many federal offices.

The most likely scenario is that the House and Senate will soon approve a temporary Bill that postpones until Dec 22 decisions on several contentious issues.

But the White House and congressional leaders will have to intensify negotiations, which have been going on for months, in order to come up with the next government funding Bill that would stave off partial shutdowns on Dec 23.

Talks with Schumer and Pelosi, whom Trump has referred to as"Chuck and Nancy," could be the start of a protracted blame game. The Republican president said on Wednesday that Democrats were looking at something "very dangerous" for the United States: "They are looking at shutting down." Pelosi responded in a tweet that Trump was the only person talking about such a scenario.

"Democrats are hopeful the president will be open to an agreement to address the urgent needs of the American people and keep government open," she wrote.

The meeting is scheduled for 3pm (4am on Friday, Singapore time).

The Republican-controlled House is expected to vote on Thursday on a Bill that would keep the government open at current spending levels through Dec 22 while lawmakers negotiate a longer-term solution.

The legislation will include some short-term help for states running out of money to finance a health insurance program for lower-income children.

A House procedural vote on the measure is expected around 1.30pm ET, with a vote on passage possible around 4.30pm ET (5.30am on Friday, Singapore time).

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged senators to support the stop-gap funding Bill he expects the House to send over.

He said the measure will provide more time for bipartisan work on addressing "a number of the priorities of our nation in the coming weeks."

Some conservative Republicans may oppose the spending Bill on the grounds that the time period is too short and forces more crucial decision-making right before the holidays. But the measure is expected to pass the House and move to the Senate.

The White House said Trump would sign the stopgap measure.

Conservative House Republicans said their real focus was on what would happen next. Going forward, they favour legislation that would hold down spending levels for everything but defence, and they also want work requirements for able-bodied Medicaid recipients. Medicaid is a government health insurance programme for the poor and disabled.

"That would be very important to us," said Representative Mark Walker, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the largest grouping of conservatives in the House.

Democrats, whose votes will be required to pass the temporary spending measure in the Senate, are pushing their own priorities, including legislative protections for young people brought to the United States illegally as children and health-care subsidies that Trump has ended for low-income people.

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