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Major disagreements hobble Congress budget talks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress is nowhere near reaching a deal on government funding, a senior lawmaker said on Thursday, as Republicans who control both chambers struggled to meet conservative demands and show they can avoid agency shutdowns.

With a Friday midnight deadline clearly impossible to meet, the Senate approved a stopgap measure extending the deadline for when the money runs out through next Wednesday. The House of Representatives was expected to pass the stopgap bill on Friday.

If Congress cannot pass the funding bill by Wednesday, it will either have to approve another stop-gap funding measure or risk pushing Washington into its second shutdown since 2013.

At the same time, Republicans continued negotiating with Democrats on the $1.15 trillion package to fund government through September, 2016.

Republican Representative Hal Rogers, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee that writes spending bills, said negotiations on the longer-term bill were inching forward but “We’re not close to a TD,” using the abbreviation for the American football term “touchdown.”

Controversial issues driving a wedge between Republicans and President Barack Obama’s Democrats plagued the negotiations.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said the sides were “trading offers, we’re talking to each other.” But he refused to guarantee that a deal will be reached by Wednesday.

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Many, but not all, of the disagreements are related to Congress’ response to recent gun massacres in Paris and California that are in some way related to Islamic State and have riveted world attention.

Rogers said there are pressures to include a Republican initiative that would effectively hit the pause button on Obama’s Syrian refugee program.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, speaking at an event marking the third anniversary of a Connecticut school shooting, said Democrats insist the bill contain language ending a ban on funding for gun violence research.

It has been law since the mid-1990s, and “it’s a terrible thing,” Pelosi said, surrounded by relatives of gun victims.

The White House blamed Republican insistence on “ideological” measures for holding up a deal. “I am optimistic that we will be able to find a bipartisan budget agreement if Republicans abandon that effort,” spokesman Josh Earnest said.

The next few days will be a test for new Speaker Ryan. His predecessor John Boehner quit after five years of infighting with conservative Republicans who wanted more deficit-reduction than Boehner was able to accomplish.

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In an attempt to give these hardliners more say, House Republicans on Thursday chose one of them, Representative Tim Huelskamp, for a committee that influences legislation and appointments to key House positions.

Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; editing by Andrew Hay, Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell