WASHINGTON, Jan 17 (Reuters) - The White House dispatched chief of staff John Kelly to meet with Hispanic members of Congress on Wednesday to ease tensions over an immigration issue threatening to derail efforts on a funding bill to avert a partial government shutdown.
Republicans, who have majorities in both the House of Representatives and Senate, are eyeing another short-term spending bill to keep the government open beyond Friday and also need to win support from fiscal conservatives in their own party.
Democrats want the spending bill to include protects for “Dreamers” - mostly Hispanic young adults brought to the United States illegally when they were children. Kelly was to meet with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which opposed a bipartisan immigration deal floated last week because it would not provide a path to citizenship for parents of Dreamers.
If Congress approves a temporary “continuing resolution” to keep the government funded through Feb. 16, it would be the fourth such measure since the 2018 federal fiscal year began on Oct. 1.
The House’s Republican funding measure does not include Democrats’ demands to shield Dreamers, Republican Representative Mike Simpson said on Tuesday. Democrats want a spending bill that protects Dreamers and it was unclear whether they would support another continuing resolution spending measure - especially if it does not contain an immigration provision.
Money for federal agencies expires on Friday and Republicans are trying to get a bill to President Donald Trump’s desk before then.
The spending plan being developed in the House would give Democrats an unrelated victory: a six-year reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), according to lawmakers. It was unclear whether the House Republicans would get enough votes to pass the measure in that chamber.
It was also unclear whether the conservative House Freedom Caucus would back the new plan. The caucus leader, Representative Mark Meadows, said late on Tuesday he did not know if a “compelling” case had been made for another temporary spending bill that would fail to bring the big increases in defense spending his group is seeking.
The Republicans’ majority in the Senate is slim, meaning they need some Democratic support to pass a government funding measure.
Senate Republican leaders have warned against holding a funding bill hostage to the debate over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that protects Dreamers and gives them work permits. They say lawmakers have until March - when Trump ordered the program to expire - to find a compromise.
“We’ve heard this before. We’ve seen this movie already,” Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told CNN. “There needs to be a solution now.”
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the backers of the bipartisan deal floated last week, said it was naive for Republicans to believe they could get all the defense funding they want but deal with Dreamers later.
“I do know how this movie ends and I want you to know how it ends: We’re not going to leave 800,000 people out in the cold with no place to go,” Graham said at the American Enterprise Institute on Wednesday. (Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Katanga Johnson; Editing by Bill Trott)