Democrats flex muscles as Congress confronts a government shutdown

Democrats flex muscles as Congress confronts a government shutdown
From Reuters - December 5, 2017

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats have a rare chance to win major concessions in a U.S. Congress they do not control by taking advantage of a battle within the Republican Party over keeping the government open.

With a Friday deadline looming when most funding for federal agencies runs out, Democrats finally have some clout. But their power is strongest while the Republicans in Congress remain fractured and fighting.

The showdown with Republicans could come to a head on Thursday when Democrats are expected to press their demands to President Donald Trump at a White House meeting.

For Trump, the complex, and very public, battle over the shutdown will also be a demonstration of his ability to deliver on a central 2016 campaign promise of adding billions of dollars to the U.S. military budget. That issue is at the core of Republicans behind-the-scenes negotiations with Democrats.

Most Republicans want a defense buildup. But many also want to limit government spending. While many Democrats also support bolstering defense, they insist on raising spending on non-defense programs too.

Democrats top two demands include passage of legislation that has eluded them for 16 years: protecting from deportation nearly 700,000 young people known as Dreamers, whose parents brought them illegally to the United States as children.

The Democrats also want to shore up Obamacare by reversing Trumps decision to stop monthly subsidy payments to insurance companies offering healthcare policies to lower-income people.

Democrats will enter the White House meeting knowing their support is crucial to Senate Republicans passing any spending bills. Republicans control the chamber by 52-48, but need 60 vote for passage of most spending measures.

While a partial government shutdown would keep emergency services and the military mainly operating, thousands of operations would be suspended, such as the operation of national parks.

Republicans have clear control of the House of Representatives. But a core of conservative Republicans who consistently vote against funding bills in their drive for smaller government could balk. Democrats have a history of strongly supporting stopgap funding bills, providing the cushion for victory in the Republican House.

If Republicans were to heal their division - one that scuttled Republican attempts to repeal Obamacare, former Democratic President Barack Obamas signature healthcare law formally known as the Affordable Care Act, the Democrats bargaining power could be diminished.



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