US House unveils new stopgap funding bill to avert shutdown
WASHINGTON, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Republicans in the U.S. Congress on Thursday advanced stopgap legislation to keep the federal government operating past Friday when funding expires, seeking to avert a self-inflicted disaster shortly before the Christmas holiday season.
The Republican-dominated House of Representatives voted to begin debate on a bill that would keep federal agencies humming along at current funding through Jan. 19 and avert a shutdown that would create political havoc in Washington.
A final House vote was set for later on Thursday and the Senate, which also is majority Republican, was expected to take up the measure on Thursday night.
But prospects appeared uncertain as Democrats pushed to include protections for young immigrants who entered the country illegally as children. Although Republicans can pass the bill through the House without Democratic cooperation, they will need at least eight Democratic votes in the Senate.
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The House also cleared the way for debate on an $81 billion disaster aid bill to help Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and several states hit by this year's hurricanes and wildfires.
If Congress passes the temporary spending bill, lawmakers will have less than a month to negotiate broader budget issues. Republicans are pushing for an increase in military spending, while Democrats want increases for medical research, opioid treatment and other domestic priorities.
The House bill includes a modest increase of $4.7 billion for the Department of Defense to be used for missile defense and ship repair.
As the House began debate on the bill, Hispanic lawmakers pressed Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer to oppose the bill if it does not shield young immigrants from deportation.
President Donald Trump has eliminated protections for immigrants who entered the country illegally as children, but has asked Congress to come up with a permanent solution by March.
McConnell said the Senate could hold a vote to protect the so-called "Dreamers" in January.
Trump accused Democrats of pushing for a shutdown to shift attention from the tax cut plan that passed Congress this week. "House Republicans, don't let this happen," he wrote on Twitter.
The Trump administration does not want other elements added to the spending bill, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
The House bill includes $2.85 billion to fund the Children's Health Insurance Program through March and funding for community health centers and the Indian Health Service.
The plan also would extend the National Security Agency's expiring internet surveillance program, known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, through Jan. 19.
Other provisions address funding for veterans and the U.S Coast Guard, according to the measure. A U.S. House aide also said the plan would address flood insurance.
Most government programs would be temporarily extended for a month at fiscal 2017 levels. Fiscal 2018 began Oct. 1 but Congress has failed to approve any of the regular funding bills for this year and instead has kept agencies running on a temporary basis.
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Roberta Rampton and Katanga Johnson; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Trott)