By Jeff Mason, Steve Holland and Stephen J. Adler
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump downplayed the severity of a potential government shutdown on Thursday, just two days shy of a deadline for Congress to reach a spending deal to avert temporary layoffs of federal workers.
“We’ll see what happens. If there’s a shutdown, there’s a shutdown,” Trump told Reuters in an interview, adding that Democrats would be to blame if the federal government was left unfunded.
Congress has until 12:01 a.m. ET on Saturday to pass a bill to fund the government or face a shutdown, which would temporarily lay off hundreds of thousands of federal workers.
Republicans introduced a bill on Wednesday to fund government operations at current levels for one more week, giving them time to finish negotiations with Democrats on the plan for the rest of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
Trump said a shutdown would be a “very negative thing” but that his administration was prepared if it was necessary.
In a wide-ranging interview, he defended the one-page tax plan he unveiled on Wednesday from criticism that it would increase the U.S. deficit, saying better trade deals and economic growth would offset the costs.
“We will do trade deals that are going to make up for a tremendous amount of the deficit. We are going to be doing trade deals that are going to be much better trade deals,” Trump said.
Trump also said it would be unfair to offer a debt bailout to Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, because it was unfair to people in U.S. states.
As part of the budget negotiations, Democrats have called for financial support to prop up Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program covering health insurance for the poor, but many Republicans are opposed to the idea.
“I don’t think that’s fair to the people of Iowa, and I don’t think it’s fair to the people of Wisconsin and Ohio and North Carolina and Pennsylvania that we should be bailing out Puerto Rico for billions and billions of dollars,” Trump said. ” No I don’t think that’s fair.”
(Writing by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Editing by Kieran Murray, Toni Reinhold)