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.

RELATED: 6 ways government shutdowns hurt you

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6 ways government shutdowns hurt you
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6 ways government shutdowns hurt you

What Happens During a Government Shutdown?

When a spending bill expires before Congress passes a new bill authorizing spending, the federal government shuts down most operations.

With spending stuck in limbo while all parties come to an agreement, the federal government runs out of money, forcing the closure.

During a government shutdown, essential services carry on. These include national security, law enforcement, emergency medical services, air traffic control and more.

But services considered non-essential stop, which can still affect your everyday life.

5 Things That Could be Tough During a Government Shutdown

Each government shutdown is different, but here are some things that could become more difficult or impossible if federal operations are forced to go on hold.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

1. Planning a Trip to a National Park or Monument

You can’t go to a national park or monument during a shutdown — they’ll be closed. This includes national zoos and museums, too. According to Vox, the 2013 government shutdown cost $500 million in lost tourism income due to national park closures.

(Photo: Zion National Park; Getty)

2. Getting a Passport

During the last shutdown, the State Department continued passport and visa operations because those functions are funded by fees, not government spending. 

We reached out to the National Passport Information Center back in April when the possibility of a shutdown loomed. The representative we spoke to said it’s unclear how a present-day shutdown would affect services, adding that multiple factors go into determining whether you’ll still be able to obtain a passport during a shutdown.

3. Using Free School Lunch Programs

Free school lunch programs will continue during a government shutdown — as long as it doesn’t last too long. If a shutdown goes on for an extended period, school districts might run out of funds to provide the free meals — as some districts worried would occur during the 2013 shutdown.

(Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)

4. Signing up for New Social Security Benefits

Social Security benefits will continue going out to existing enrollees, but new applications for benefits may have to wait until after the shutdown to be processed.

5. Buying a Home

If you were planning to use a federal loan, like a Federal Housing Administration-insured loan or a Veterans Affairs loan, to purchase a house, the agencies will still process it — depending on a few factors.

During the 2013 government shutdown, the FHA released an FAQ stating it would still process single-family loans, though it warned that it could take extra time because of a reduced staff. Delays could occur for other reasons, like if you need to obtain documents from the IRS.

Are you a veteran? Thankfully, it’s unlikely that a shutdown would affect your VA loans.

6. Your Tax Refund

And, perhaps, the worst of all, depending on the time of year: If you’re waiting for a tax refund from the IRS and the government shuts down, you’ll have to wait until it reopens to get your money.

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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)

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