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Lawmakers Work to Avert Shutdown       04/27 06:09

   Lawmakers are nearing agreement on sweeping spending legislation to keep the 
lights on in government, after the White House backed off a threat to withhold 
payments that help lower-income Americans pay their medical bills.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Lawmakers are nearing agreement on sweeping spending 
legislation to keep the lights on in government, after the White House backed 
off a threat to withhold payments that help lower-income Americans pay their 
medical bills.

   It was the latest concession by the White House, which had earlier dropped a 
demand for money for President Donald Trump's border wall. Even with 
Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, the 
Trump administration is learning that Democrats retain significant leverage 
when their votes are needed on must-pass legislation.

   A temporary funding bill expires Friday at midnight, and GOP leaders late 
Wednesday unveiled another short-term spending bill to prevent a government 
shutdown this weekend, something Republicans are determined to avoid.

   There appears little chance of that as lawmakers worked to resolve final 
stumbling blocks on issues like the environment, though a short-term extension 
of existing funding levels is likely.

   "The fundamental issue is keeping the government open, that's our focus," 
said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., a top member of the vote-counting team in 
the House.

   At the same time, House Republicans had a breakthrough on their moribund 
health care legislation as a key group of conservatives, the House Freedom 
Caucus, announced it would support a revised version of the bill. Freedom 
Caucus opposition was a key ingredient in the legislation's collapse a month 
ago, a humiliating episode for Republicans that called into question their 
ability to govern given that they've been promising for seven years to repeal 
and replace former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

   Yet whether the Freedom Caucus support would be enough remained uncertain. 
One key moderate, GOP Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, dismissed the Freedom 
Caucus about-face as "a matter of blame-shifting and face-saving" for a bill 
going nowhere. Even if the legislation passes the House it will face major 
hurdles in the Senate and is certain to be extensively revised if it survives 
at all.

   The changes in the bill would let states escape requirements under Obama's 
health care law that insurers charge healthy and seriously ill customers the 
same rates, and cover a list of specified services like maternity care. 
Conservatives embraced the revisions as a way to lower people's health care 
expenses, but moderates saw them as diminishing coverage.

   Despite some optimism among House leaders for a quick vote on the health 
bill, the outcome was difficult to predict. The White House has been exerting 
intense pressure on House GOP leaders to deliver any tangible legislative 
accomplishments ahead of Trump's 100-day mark, something that has yet to occur 
aside from Senate confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

   The massive spending measure, which would wrap together 11 unfinished 
spending bills into a single "omnibus" bill, represents the first real 
bipartisan legislation of Trump's presidency.

   Democratic votes are needed to pass the measure over tea party opposition in 
the House and to provide enough support to clear a filibuster hurdle in the 
Senate, which has led negotiators to strip away controversial policy riders and 
ignore an $18 billion roster of unpopular spending cuts submitted by White 
House budget director Mick Mulvaney.

   The outlines of a potential agreement remained fuzzy, but aides familiar 
with the talks said Trump would emerge with border security funding that's 
unrelated to the wall and a $15 billion down payment for military readiness 
accounts on top of $578 billion in already-negotiated Pentagon funding. 
Democrats won funding for medical research, Pell Grants and foreign aid.

   But negotiators rejected Trump's demands for $1 billion to begin 
construction of his promised wall along the length of the 2,000-mile 
(3218.54-kilometer) U.S.-Mexico border. And after a dispute between Mulvaney 
and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the administration agreed to keep 
funding cost-sharing payments under Obamacare that go to reimburse health 
insurers for reducing deductibles and co-payments for lower-income people.


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