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Congress races to reach spending deal before shutdown deadline

House Republicans and Senate Democrats need to pass legislation to fund the government before Thursday at midnight to keep the lights on.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Dec. 4, 2014. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Dec. 4, 2014.

With the clock ticking before a government shutdown takes effect at midnight on Thursday, House and Senate negotiators spent Monday hammering out a spending deal to keep the doors open through next year.

Legislation funding the government expires on Dec. 11. House Speaker John Boehner already defused the biggest threat to a spending deal by electing not to include a provision blocking executive action by President Obama that’s expected to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. Instead, he passed a separate bill last week restricting the White House’s ability to act that will die in the still-Democratic Senate, allowing Republicans to cast a symbolic vote without jeopardizing spending talks.

RELATED: Shutdown fight threatens GOP rebrand before it has even begun

Even with the immigration issue resolved for now, however, Democrats and Republicans still have to come to a final agreement. Potential roadblocks that have surfaced in the negotiations include Republican measures to restrict the Environmental Protection Agency and roll back financial regulations under Dodd-Frank, the 2010 Wall Street reform legislation. Specifically, lawmakers are considering a delay to a new rule restricting risky derivatives trading, according to Capitol Hill sources. The proposal has attracted some Democratic support but risks a backlash from liberal Democrats both in the House and Senate. Republicans could potentially smooth things over by offering higher funding levels for Democratic priorities in exchange for regulatory changes.

In sidestepping the immigration issue, Boehner resisted calls from tea party leaders like Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King to attach language blocking Obama’s deportation overhaul directly to legislation funding the Department of Homeland Security and force a new shutdown fight if Democrats refused to play along.

Under the plan Boehner announced last week, the House would pass two bills to fund the government. One would finance the majority of operations through the fiscal year while a second one would fund only the Department of Homeland Security, which is carrying out Obama’s executive action. The move would buy time before the incoming Republican Senate majority and expanded House majority are sworn in, giving the GOP greater leverage. 

Conservative activist groups like Heritage Action are urging House Republicans to vote “no” on any spending bill that doesn’t include such restrictions and it’s possible a significant number of them will follow their lead. If that's the case, Republican leaders will need support from House Democrats to make up the difference. Boehner said last week that he expects crossover support for the final bills from House Democrats, whose leaders have indicated they’re open to helping pass a deal under the right circumstances.

RELATED: House passes bill blocking President Obama's immigration action

While Boehner has not ruled out restarting the immigration battle when the next Homeland Security bill expires, he has warned Republicans that they have only “limited options” to stop Obama’s move. Conservatives are skeptical Boehner and Senate Republicans have the stomach for a high-profile standoff on the issue. They have good reason: There’s little reason the politics of a shutdown fight, which Republican leaders clearly believe work against them now, will be much different in a couple of months. Republicans cratered in the polls after leading a shutdown over Obamacare in 2013, but recovered quickly as problems with the health care law's rollout dragged Democrats down immediately afterward. Many Republicans fear a partial government shutdown over immigration would derail a planned rebrand of the party aimed at expanding the GOP's appeal outside of its conservative base. 

Suzy Khimm contributed to this report.