Thursday, 18 January 2018

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

From left, Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leaders, at the Capitol on Wednesday.CreditTom Brenner/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The House approved on Thursday night a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open past Friday, but Senate Democrats — angered by President 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 to 197, despite conflicting signals by President Trump sent throughout the day and a threatened rebellion from conservatives that failed to materialize. The bill’s chances had appeared in question until shortly before the vote, provided only a faint glimmer of hope that a crisis could be averted before much of the government exhausts its funds at midnight on Friday. The bill would fund the government through Feb. 16.Shortly after the stopgap bill cleared the House, Senate Republicans said they would hold a vote later Thursday night to proceed to the measure. In the Senate, at least a dozen Democratic votes will be needed to approve the measure, and there is little chance those will 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.
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 Mr. Trump referred to African nations as “shithole countries. By Thursday, budget negotiations were making little progress even as prominent House Democrats were introducing a resolution to censure the president for his words.Yet on Thursday morning, Mr. 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 Mr. Trump’s message, the administration tried to walk it back. A White House spokesman, Raj Shah, said that the president supported the House’s stopgap bill.

But Democrats pressed their advantage. Mr. 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?” Mr. Schumer asked. “It’s a mess.”

For hours afterward, it remained unclear whether Republican leaders in the House could muster the votes to get the stopgap through that chamber.

Representative 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 andcontinued to lack the vote of Senator 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,” Mr. Warner and Mr. 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, Representative 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 on Thursday night, the Freedom Caucus announced that it had decided to support the stopgap bill.

Traveling in Pennsylvania, Mr. 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,” Mr. Trump told reporters before delivering a speech.

The Senate still needs to give its approval to avert a shutdown early Saturday morning, but Democrats are not ready to offer their assent.

Eighteen members of the Senate Democratic caucus voted for the last stopgap measure in December. But many of those members have already said they would oppose the latest bill or have suggested they were leaning in that direction, including Mr. Warner, Mr. Kaine, Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Senator Jon Tester of Montana.

Mr. Tester, who is up for re-election this year in a state that Mr. Trump won by 20 percentage points, said that a stopgap bill that included CHIP funding but left other issues unresolved was “not what we’re looking for.”Lawmakers were growing frustrated.

“I don’t want to play shutdown politics,” said Senator 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, Senator Michael Bennet, a Democrat, agreed.

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

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