U.S. Republicans seek to tie Syria refugee issue to spending bill

September 7, 2016 6:21 PM EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some conservative U.S. Republican lawmakers want to tie President Barack Obama's Syrian refugee resettlement program to a spending bill that must pass in order to keep the federal government open after the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

In a move that could complicate congressional leaders' efforts to pass the bill on time, members of the House of Representatives' conservative "Freedom Caucus" said they would support a temporary spending measure if it includes a moratorium on admitting the Syrians to the United States.

Republican Representative John Fleming, a caucus member, said putting limits on Syrian refugees is a "high priority" for the group. "We should not be allowing refugees from terrorist regions of the world, without proper vetting," he told reporters.

Democrats would object to such a measure, increasing worries that the government might shut down on Oct. 1 if Congress cannot pass the temporary spending bill, known as a "continuing resolution."

The Freedom Caucus' plan was first reported by Politico.

The Obama administration said on Aug. 29 it would meet its goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees during the current fiscal year a month ahead of schedule and was working with Congress to increase the target by a few thousand during 2017.

U.S. admission of Syrian refugees has long been a politically sensitive issue, although the country has admitted far fewer than many of its close allies.

Obama's 2015 promise to admit the 10,000 sparked a firestorm of criticism, mostly from Republicans who said the plan could put Americans at risk from terrorists. Democrats who supported his plan argued that Syrians are already subjected to intense screening and said barring them is contrary to the values of the United States.

The issue has featured in the 2016 race for the White House. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has warned that violent militants could enter the country posing as refugees.

The civil war in Syria has led millions of people to flee the country. Millions of them have found shelter in neighboring countries including Jordan and Turkey. Germany has admitted hundreds of thousands and Canada nearly 30,000 between November 2015 and May 1.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Andrew Hay)

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