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House passes stopgap spending bill to avert shutdown

By Richard Cowan and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday approved another stopgap bill to keep the federal government from shutting down, hours after President Donald Trump said he would "love" to see a shutdown if immigration legislation were not included.

By a mostly partisan vote of 245-182, the Republican-controlled House sent to the Senate a temporary spending bill - the fifth of the federal fiscal year that began in October - to extend most federal agency funding until March 23.

The bill does not contain changes to U.S. immigration law, which was a key point of contention in a partisan standoff that led to a three-day partial shutdown last month.

The Senate was expected to vote on the new spending bill on Wednesday. Senators were likely to alter the House-passed bill and return it to the House for final passage. Senate Democrats were expected to balk at a House provision that would raise Pentagon funding through Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year, without also raising non-defense spending.

Republicans and Democrats said they were making progress, however, on a budget deal that would set new, higher spending limits for defense and non-defense programs.

Last month's shutdown came after lawmakers failed to reach agreement on contentious budget and immigration issues.

"I'd love to see a shutdown if we don't get this stuff taken care of," Trump said at the White House.

The White House later clarified that it did not expect the budget deal to include specifics on immigration.

A broad budget deal could potentially end the brinkmanship over spending that has periodically roiled Washington and that resulted in funds running out for the government in January.

"I'm optimistic that very soon we'll be able to reach an agreement," Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the agreement would include an increase for domestic programs like drug treatment and broadband infrastructure that Democrats have sought, as well as a military spending increase championed by Republicans.

"We're making real progress on a spending deal," he told reporters.

January's shutdown came about after Democrats insisted that any spending bill must also include protections for young immigrants known as "Dreamers," who were brought to the country illegally as children.

Democrats are not taking that approach this time around.

"Nobody wants another one (shutdown) but him," Schumer said of Trump.

Trump's fellow Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress, are also eager to keep spending and immigration separate.

"We don't need a government shutdown on this," Republican Representative Barbara Comstock told Trump at the White House.

Congress also faces another looming deadline, as the United States could have trouble paying its bills within weeks if lawmakers do not take the politically painful step of raising the debt ceiling.

The third-ranking House Republican, Representative Steve Scalise, said negotiations over the debt ceiling were being coupled with the Senate budget talks.


Lawmakers have been struggling to reach a deal on an immigration bill, despite broad public support for helping the Dreamers - hundreds of thousands of young Latinos who were allowed to study and work without fear of deportation under a program set up by former Democratic President Barack Obama.

Trump last year ordered those protection removed by March 5, although a federal court has blocked his administration from ending the program.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress are trying to agree on legislation that would protect Dreamers and boost border security. Schumer said the Senate could take up the issue next week.

Trump has said any immigration deal must include changes to programs for legal immigration that would assess applicants on their skills, rather than their countries of origin or ties to U.S. residents. Democrats oppose that idea.

(Additional reporting by Makini Brice, David Morgan and Amanda Becker; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)