Senate Votes to Avoid Shutdown, Funds Government Through January

With a day to spare Congress kicks can down road, once again

The Capitol Dome, shortly after repair scaffolding was removed. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

With just a day left until government funding would run out, Congress sent another temporary spending bill to the president’s desk Thursday.

After days of wrangling votes and changing plans, the House voted 231-188 and the Senate voted 66-32 to clear a continuing resolution that would fund the government through Jan. 19, provide funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and community health centers through March 31, appropriate $2.1 billion for a private care access program for veterans and temporarily extend Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act until Jan. 19.

Two major defense add-ons are also included: $4 billion for missile defense, including the construction of a missile field in Alaska, and $700 million for Navy ship repairs, each designated as emergency spending to get around budget caps. The stopgap includes anomalies related to Coast Guard continuation pay, the Indian Health Service, undocumented immigrants and preparations for a potential influenza pandemic.

The measure would also delay the onset of sequestration for defense and nondefense accounts, since current funding levels are $3 billion and $2 billion over their respective statutory spending caps for fiscal 2018.

For all of the drama this week about conservatives’ objections to the bill, House Republicans were able to muster enough support for the spending package to send it to the Senate late Thursday afternoon — with 16 GOP members voting “no” and 14 Democrats voting to support the package.

During debate, House Republicans lamented that they were about to vote on the third stopgap of fiscal 2018, instead of passing a 12-bill omnibus under leadership-approved spending levels. But they urged support for the short-term package.

“The House must pass this bill now. Without action on this bill, existing government funding will expire tomorrow and the government will shut down,” House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., said. “This additional time will allow House and Senate leadership to complete their negotiations on overall spending levels.”

The top Democrat on the spending panel, Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, criticized Republicans for putting forward another temporary spending bill, not yet having a bipartisan spending caps agreement and not having a bipartisan solution for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“I rise in opposition to this epic failure of governing,” Lowey said. “Nearly three months into the fiscal year, the Republican majority is advancing its third, temporary continuing resolution with no foreseeable path forward on enacting full-year appropriations.”

Congressional leaders and the White House need to negotiate new fiscal 2018 spending levels to avoid a reduction in discretionary spending, due to the Budget Control Act of 2011. Negotiations have been taking place for several weeks, but parties have yet to reach a final agreement. Without those numbers, the Appropriations Committee cannot write its 12 spending bills and the government must either operate under a temporary spending bill or shut down.

In the Senate, there was broad bipartisan support for the stopgap spending bill, despite Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s skepticism on Thursday morning and Sen. Rand Paul’s objection to including the paygo waiver in the stopgap.

During a morning speech, Schumer, D-N.Y., listed concerns about finding a solution for nearly 800,000 so-called “Dreamers” enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Several other Democratic priorities, including a spending caps agreement, bipartisan reauthorization of CHIP and a bipartisan reauthorization of FISA were not in the package.

“We have to solve all of these issues together, even if that means passing a clean, short-term CR extension of government funding with some anomalies — we understand there always have to be some anomalies, but not those that change the structure — and continuing the negotiations into January,” he said.

On Thursday evening, Sen. Rand Paul objected to the CR’s paygo waiver, which prevents automatic spending cuts related to the GOP’s $1.5 trillion tax bill. Paul offered a motion, which was rejected, that would have kept those spending cuts in place.

“We have rules in place. The rules in place say that there are budget caps. So, they’ve got a special little waiver they’ve put in the spending bill because we are now going to exceed those caps,” Paul, R-Ky., said.

In the end, concerns about the deficit and Democrats concerns about punting numerous legislative issues into next year were not enough to prevent the spending bill from passing Congress.  

David Lerman, Lindsey McPherson and John T. Bennett contributed to this report.

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