CAPITOL HILL —
The U.S. Senate will be the focus Wednesday in the effort to fund the federal government and avoid another possible shutdown as Republicans and Democrats stand apart on how long to extend domestic spending relative to national defense.
With a midnight Thursday deadline pending, the House of Representatives voted mostly along party lines Tuesday night to approve a spending bill that would fund the Pentagon for the remainder of the current fiscal year but fund domestic programs for just six weeks.
"The House will send the Senate a bill to fully fund our military for this year while we keep working towards a budget agreement," House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said, adding that Democrats should vote to "provide our men and women in uniform the resources that they need."
Democrats signaled their intent to block the House bill in the Senate, where the minority party can insist on a three-fifths majority for most legislation to advance. Republicans have a razor-thin one-seat majority in the chamber.
"Democrats have made our position in these negotiations very clear: we support an increase in funding for our military -- and our middle class," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said. "The two are not mutually exclusive. We don't want to do just one and leave the other behind."
U.S. government funding has been extended four times since late last year and is set to expire once again Thursday. Senate leaders of both political parties have been working to forge a two-year spending deal for all federal operations, but have been forced to consider stopgap measures until such an accord is finalized.
"We're making real progress on a spending deal that would increase the caps for both military and middle class priorities on the domestic side," Schumer told reporters. "I am hopeful we can come to an agreement, an agreement very soon."
Last month, the U.S. government endured a three-day partial federal shutdown that was prompted in part by a partisan disagreement on immigration reform.
The standoff is continuing this week, with President Donald Trump and conservative Republicans so far unable to reach a deal with Democrats to protect young undocumented immigrants brought to America as children who will be at risk of deportation next month.
The president has said he supports a path to citizenship for 1.8 million youth eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama administration program that Trump set for termination. A White House blueprint for immigration reform also calls for funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a reduction in legal immigration to the United States, and prioritizing newcomers with advanced work skills.
"President Trump has done something that President Obama never did -- he's offered 1.8 million adults who are DACA recipients and DACA-eligible an opportunity to get on a pathway to American citizenship," Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas said. "That's an incredibly generous offer."
Democrats countered that the fate of DACA beneficiaries should not be tied to larger immigration topics Congress has been unable to agree on for decades.
"DACA has been an extraordinary success," Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said. "Bipartisan legislation to protect Dreamers [DACA recipients] has been pending in Congress and has overwhelming support from the people we represent, including President Trump's own voters."
Last month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, secured enough Democratic support to end the three-day shutdown by promising to initiate floor debate on a DACA solution if no bipartisan immigration accord had been reached by February 8 and the government remained open.
After meeting with his Republican caucus Tuesday, McConnell reiterated his commitment to a full floor debate but did not say whether Trump's immigration blueprint would serve as a starting point, or whether the chamber would consider a more limited bipartisan proposal addressing DACA and border security.
"There's no secret plan here to try to push this in any direction. The Senate's going to work its will," the majority Leader said.