House Republicans are divided over the terms of a stopgap plan to avert a partial shutdown of the federal government, heightening tensions with just a week left before current funding is set to expire.
GOP leaders on Friday were mulling a spending plan that would keep government services operating for two weeks beyond the Dec. 8 deadline, buying time to negotiate a longer-term agreement with Democrats. But some conservative lawmakers voiced resistance, arguing that such a tight window could produce an unnecessary burst of spending and concessions to Democrats.
Republican leaders were expected to release details of their proposed short-term spending plan later Friday, aides said. But disharmony in the GOP ranks raised questions about whether it would have the votes to pass.
"There's real disagreements over how long it should go. I don't think there's much disagreement about whether we should do one or not," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a close ally of House GOP leaders, as he left a meeting with fellow Republican lawmakers Friday morning.
The divisions mean Republican leaders may need to shore up support for their plan by relying more on Democrats, who are demanding changes in current spending levels and concessions on health-care and immigration policy to win their votes.
In the coming days, the White House, Republicans and Democrats will need to determine exactly how much money the federal government plans to spend in the coming years. Recent talks have focused on raising spending levels between $180 billion and $200 billion over the next two fiscal years, according to multiple aides familiar with the talks. But a White House meeting with President Trump and top congressional leaders scheduled this week to hash out details was canceled by Democrats after the president raised doubts that he could strike a bipartisan deal and criticized the Democratic Party's stance on immigration policy.
With the deadline approaching, top leaders need to determine whether to use the must-pass spending legislation to provide legal relief to the children of undocumented immigrants, known as "dreamers." Hundreds of thousands of dreamers are protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era program that Trump is ending in early March. Dozens of congressional Democrats and a growing number of Republicans say they will withhold support for a spending bill if protections for dreamers aren't resolved by the end of the year.
Prospects for an immigration deal were buoyed Friday when Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a longtime proponent of bipartisan immigration reform, said he had secured assurances from Vice President Pence that the Trump administration will work with lawmakers on a plan to protect dreamers and enact other changes in immigration policy in exchange for his support of the GOP tax plan.
Another potential sticking point is funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides health-care services for 9 million children and 370,000 pregnant women nationwide. Its funding began drying up Sept. 30, and while many states have enough money to keep their individual programs afloat for at least a few months, five could run out in late December.
Looming over the spending deadline and last-minute talks is Trump, who has told confidants in recent days that a shutdown could be good for him politically.
But congressional leaders have warned that would be a terrible outcome.
"A government shutdown is something we all hope desperately to avoid, all of us, Democrats and Republicans . . . with the exception, it seems, of the president," Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Friday morning, citing a Washington Post report about Trump's comments on the potential political benefit of a shutdown.
"It's disappointing but maybe not surprising that President Trump appears to be putting politics before the well-being of the American people," Schumer added.
Disagreements among House Republicans over how to proceed played out behind closed doors early Friday at the same hour that Senate Republicans were sorting out last-minute disagreements to pass a sweeping rewrite of the nation's tax laws.
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) did not immediately respond to comment.
Emerging from the meeting, Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a hard-right conservative and vocal member of the House Freedom Caucus, proposed passing a five-week stopgap measure that would extend current spending into early 2018.
"Let's just take the hurry out of it, push it off into January and do rational policy," Brat said.
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), another Freedom Caucus member, also said he's opposed to a short-term spending bill, "if it's a two-week plan and we go and do an orgy of spending that throws Christmas tree stuff on the bill." But, he said, "if it's two weeks because we actually want to do something that advances our priorities, I'd be willing to listen to that."
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a top appropriator, told reporters that a two-week agreement "puts some pressure on everybody" to cut a long-term deal.
"In the short term, I think this approach works," he said.
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.), who chairs the powerful House Rules Committee, warned that several of his colleagues are growing anxious with the lurching spending deadlines.
"Any delay that we make harms a government that should get its plans done," he told reporters. GOP lawmakers might consent to brief extensions of government funding, Sessions said, but "I think as we get to Dec. 22, we get to a breaking point."
Democratic support for the GOP spending proposal was unclear Friday. Aides to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her lieutenants did not respond to requests for comment.
Several more Democrats, including a bloc of senators who are seen as potential 2020 presidential candidates, said this week that they would vote against legislation that extends spending authorities after the end of the year if the dreamers issue isn't resolved.
Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo (Fla.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.) said this week that they would join Democrats in opposition. Both are working with other moderate Republicans, including Rep. Scott W. Taylor (Va.), on a letter to Ryan formally expressing their position. Aides familiar with the plans say the letter could be delivered as early as Monday and may be co-signed by as many as 30 GOP lawmakers.
Flake told reporters that he believes an agreement is within reach.
"I've always been convinced, on DACA, that the president's instincts are better than the advice that he's getting," he said. "This is one area that I do believe that's the case."
Dent acknowledged that Democrats "have a lot of leverage."
"At the end of the day, there's going to be a budget agreement, we're going to need a whole bunch of Democrats to vote for that. I get it, they have leverage," he said. "And that might mean they get some policy victories, and some of those policy victories are things we share, too."
Erica Werner contributed to this report.