WASHINGTON - U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. A full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.
President Barack Obama kept that battle alive during last week’s Thanksgiving holiday, arguing that the plight of Syrians fleeing oppression and bloodshed should resonate with Americans.
“The world is still full of pilgrims, men and women who want nothing more than the chance for a safer, better future for themselves and their families,” Obama said in his Thanksgiving Day address. “What makes America America is that we offer that chance.”
In the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Paris, the House of Representatives voted to suspend the admittance of Syrian refugees.
“Our nation has always been welcoming,” said Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan. “But we cannot let terrorists take advantage of our compassion. This is a moment when it is better to be safe than sorry.”
The bill’s fate in the Senate is not clear, but the White House has threatened a veto if the measure reaches the president's desk.
Restricting refugees is one of many initiatives the Republican-led Congress could attach to a spending bill that must be signed into law by December 11, when U.S. government funding expires. If not approved, a partial federal shutdown would ensue.
Republicans could also attach a so-called “rider” to defund the non-profit women’s health group and abortion provider, Planned Parenthood.
“I don’t think Planned Parenthood should get one red cent from the taxpayer,” said Ryan.
Ryan spoke long before Friday’s armed assault at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic that left three people dead and nine wounded. It is not yet known how the incident might impact congressional deliberations over federal funding for the organization.
For now, Democrats note that time is dwindling to keep the U.S. government open.
“December 11 will be here before we know it,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. “Democrats will work with Republicans to avoid an unnecessary government shutdown, but we will not accept riders that violate our principles.”
Republicans insisted they will press their party’s policy goals.
“I’ve been around here a while. We always have riders on appropriation bills,” said Ryan.
End-of-year drama is nothing new in Congress, where lawmakers’ resolve to stand and fight for their positions and priorities is tested by their collective desire to adjourn and get out of Washington for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.