Political News

House Passes Short-Term Spending Bill, Setting Up Shutdown Battle in Senate

Posted January 18, 2018 11:13 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON — The House approved a stopgap spending bill Thursday night to keep the government open past Friday, but Senate Democrats — angered by President Donald Trump’s vulgar aspersions and a lack of progress on a broader budget and immigration deal — appeared ready to block the measure.

The House approved the measure 230-197, despite conflicting signals by Trump sent throughout the day and a threatened rebellion from conservatives that ended up fizzling. But the bill, which would keep the government open through Feb. 16, provided only a faint glimmer of hope that a crisis could be averted before funding expires at midnight Friday.

In the Senate, at least about a dozen Democratic votes would be needed to approve the measure, and there was little chance that those would materialize. Democrats are intent on securing concessions that would, among other things, protect from deportation young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, increase domestic spending, aid Puerto Rico and bolster the government’s response to the opioid crisis.

The Senate held only a procedural vote on the stopgap bill late Thursday night, leaving for Friday a more consequential vote when Democrats are expected to block the measure.

In addition to keeping the government open, the bill would provide funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years, and it would delay or suspend a handful of taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act.

The weeks-old standoff on immigration and spending only grew more charged last week after Trump referred to African nations as “shithole countries.” By Thursday, talks on those matters had produced little visible progress, and prominent House Democrats were introducing a resolution to censure the president for his words.

In the Senate, Democrats were unifying around a “no” vote. If the stopgap bill passes, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said, “there will be no incentive to negotiate, and we’ll be right back here in a month with the same problems at our feet.”

Republicans were left seething.

“We’re either going to act like 13-year-olds or not,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. "Our first job is to keep government going, and if you’re going to shut her down, it better be for a damn good reason.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, lamented the Democrats’ “fixation on illegal immigration” at the expense of addressing other matters.

It is anything but clear which side would pay the steepest political price if the government does indeed run out of money a year to the day after Trump took office. But Democrats appear poised to force the issue.

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, complained that Republicans had waited until the last minute to address the fate of the young immigrants and to deal with other pressing issues.

“But no, they have to fool around with giving the richest people in our country and the corporations huge, huge tax breaks,” she said. “That’s what they were running around doing in the dark of night. You think I’m a little upset? Damn right I am.”

Trump is not making it easier for congressional Republicans. The perilous day on Capitol Hill began with the president firing off a Twitter message that undermined his party’s strategy to keep the government open. Republican leaders had spent Wednesday pressuring Democrats to vote for the spending bill, arguing that opposing it would effectively block the extension of the child health program, known as CHIP, which they had included in the spending bill. Funding for the program lapsed at the end of September.

Yet on Thursday morning, Trump suggested that the funding should not be part of the stopgap bill, writing on Twitter: “CHIP should be part of a long-term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!”

Hours after Trump’s message, the administration tried to walk it back. A White House spokesman, Raj Shah, said the president supported the House’s stopgap bill.

But Democrats pressed their advantage. Schumer brought up the tweet and questioned whether it meant that the president opposes the stopgap measure that congressional leaders from his own party are trying to pass.

“Who knows?” Schumer asked. “It’s a mess.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, made clear that she was unmoved by the inclusion of CHIP funding in the stopgap bill.

“This is like giving you a bowl of doggy doo, put a cherry on top and call it a chocolate sundae,” she said.

By Thursday night, the focus had turned to the Senate, with barely 24 hours left for lawmakers to find a way to keep the government’s lights on.

Virginia’s two Democratic senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, whose constituents include hundreds of thousands of federal workers, announced together that they, too, would oppose the temporary spending bill in the Senate.

If Senate Republicans were unified in support and continued to lack the vote of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, they would still have needed at least 10 Democrats to join them for the bill to succeed in that chamber. With several expected Republican defections, that number would grow even larger.

“Congress should remain in session with no recess until we work out a long-term bipartisan budget deal that addresses all issues,” Warner and Kaine said in a joint statement.

Against that darkening backdrop, House leaders pressed forward with a planned vote on the temporary spending bill.

Not only were Democrats opposed, but many members of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of hard-line conservatives, had reservations. Earlier in the day, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the leader of the Freedom Caucus, expressed frustration that Congress was looking to pass its fourth stopgap spending measure for the 2018 fiscal year.

“Three strikes, you’re out,” he said, adding, “I guess the speaker has the best plan, and so we’ll just see how that works out.”

But shortly before the vote Thursday night, the Freedom Caucus announced that it had decided to support the stopgap bill.

Traveling in Pennsylvania, Trump accused Democrats of provoking a shutdown to drown out discussion of the Republican tax overhaul.

“I think the Democrats would like to see a shutdown in order to get off that subject,” Trump told reporters before delivering a speech. Eighteen members of the Senate Democratic caucus voted for the last stopgap measure in December. But many of those members have said they would oppose the latest bill or have suggested they were leaning in that direction, including Warner, Kaine, Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Jon Tester of Montana.

Tester, who is up for re-election this year in a state Trump won by 20 percentage points, denounced the stopgap bill as a “disgrace.”

“We keep doing patches and patches and patches and I’m done,” he said, adding: “We have to do our job, for God’s sake! People need predictability in government.”

Lawmakers were growing frustrated.

“I don’t want to play shutdown politics,” said Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “I think it’s a bad idea and a pox on both parties.”

His Colorado colleague, Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, agreed.

“It just makes us all look terrible,” Bennet said.