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By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul D. Ryan faces his first big test as Congress stares down a deadline to do something that has become increasingly difficult: pass a bill to fund the government.

With just seven workdays remaining before the Dec. 11 deadline, the new speaker will aim to leverage his political honeymoon into a strategy that will avoid another federal shutdown.

But already Ryan is under pressure to tack on a host of GOP policy provisions to the $1.1 trillion spending bill — among them efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, halt the entry of Syrian refugees into the U.S. and repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Forcing any of those extras into the bill might bolster support from Republican conservatives, but it would also unleash a backlash from Democrats, setting up a showdown in Congress and with the White House.

“We obviously have difference of opinions on all of these big issues,” Ryan said Tuesday, declining to explain how they might be resolved. “Those negotiations are ongoing right now.”

The Wisconsin Republican received an assist from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, the No. 2 Republican, who suggested Monday that the Dec. 11 deadline to pass a spending bill might slip to Dec. 18, allowing more time to get rank-and-file Republicans on board.

Leaders need to tamp down GOP dissent over what will likely be a compromise with Democrats.

“Our first principle starting out is to get the most conservative bill we can,” McCarthy told reporters Monday in the Capitol, saying he was “hopeful” the voting could be wrapped up by the 11th, but noting that Dec. 18 is the final workday before lawmakers break for the Christmas holidays.

“I wish it would go a little faster,” he said. “If not, we’re here until the 18th, and it won’t make any difference. We’ll get it done.”

He added: “I do not see a shutdown happening.”

President Barack Obama previously said he would not sign another temporary funding bill beyond the one that runs out Dec. 11, but the White House softened that Monday, opening the door for a stopgap measure for just a few days.

Both sides had hoped that the two-year budget accord reached this fall would create a smoother landing for the year-end spending bill. But staff negotiators have struggled over working nights and weekends to try to reach a compromise.

The days ahead will be pivotal for Ryan, who has enjoyed mostly positive reviews since he took over for beleaguered House Speaker John A. Boehner this fall.

But Ryan’s leadership has not yet been seriously tested.

“I say with some confidence that the newly elected speaker of the House doesn’t want to preside over a government shutdown six weeks into his tenure,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

Just two months ago, the funding fight over GOP efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, led in part by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the GOP presidential candidate, helped push Boehner out of office. Conservatives rallied opposition to Planned Parenthood after secretly recorded videos showed officials for the family planning organization discussing the use of fetal tissue for research.

Boehner decided to resign after conservatives threatened to oust him for refusing to engage in a protracted fight that could have resulted in a shutdown.

Hoping to avoid a similar outcome and unite the fractious GOP majority, Ryan vowed to change the culture of House leadership, mainly by meeting the Republican lawmakers’ demands to be more involved in the decision-making process.

Ryan has tapped the chairmen of the Appropriation Committee subcommittees — the leaders responsible for the spending bill — to sit down with rank-and-file lawmakers to craft priorities in the pending legislation.

And the new speaker launched a second weekly conference meeting — the private GOP sessions in the Capitol basement — as a forum to discuss the thorny details of various policies.

“Our challenge that Paul has set out for himself — doing a little more regular order, doing bigger issues — you see us working toward that,” McCarthy said. “They feel they’re being listened to.”

©2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan via wikimedia commons

 

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.