WASHINGTON -- House and Senate appropriations staff are working on a stopgap funding bill that would keep the government operating through March 23, though Republican leaders haven't yet made a final decision on the plan, according to two Republican congressional aides.
Lawmakers have been working toward a vote on another temporary government spending bill early next week, before the current funding expires on Feb. 8.
The March 23 end-date could raise alarms about the nation's debt ceiling, if next week's measure doesn't also include raising the federal borrowing limit. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said this week that the U.S. may run the risk of default without a debt ceiling increase in early March. The Treasury Department separately urged Congress to raise the limit by the end of February.
Congressional leaders have said they prefer to pair the painful debt-ceiling vote with other must-pass measures like the government spending bill, though there may be other options besides the stopgap funding extension.
The six-week stopgap bill is unlikely to carry either a bipartisan spending caps deal or an overhaul of the nation's immigration system. Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, said this week that the next stopgap measure could include an extension of the expired community health centers program or of expired Medicare provisions in order to attract Democratic votes.
Senate Democrats said this week they won't risk a second government shutdown to force a vote on immigration as long as progress is being made toward a resolution of the immigration issue.
But there may be resistance from conservative Republicans in the House.
"I don't see the possibility of the House Freedom Caucus supporting a fifth CR without substantial changes," Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, chairman of the group, told reporters at the House-Senate Republican retreat in West Virginia Thursday.
The Freedom Caucus threatened to vote against the most recent stopgap bill but relented under pressure from the White House and with a promise that the leadership would seek to drum up support for a hard-line immigration bill.
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