House backs temporary spending bill to avert shutdown

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., right, shakes hands after presenting a pen to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, left, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., second from left, watches after signing the final version of the GOP tax bill during an enrollment ceremony at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-led House narrowly passed a temporary spending bill to avert a government shutdown Thursday, doing the bare minimum in a sprint toward the holidays and punting disputes on immigration, health care and national security to next year.

The vote was 231-188 with Democrats criticizing Republicans’ inability to complete the dozen spending bills for the current fiscal year and relying on a third stopgap bill since the year’s Oct. 1 start. The Senate was expected to vote on the short-term legislation late Thursday.

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., called the result “an epic failure of governing,” adding “the Republican majority has made a complete mess of the basics of governing.”

The wrap-up measure allows Republicans controlling Washington to savor their win on this week’s $1.5 trillion tax package — even as they kick a full lineup of leftover work into the new year. Congress will return in January facing enormous challenges on immigration, the federal budget, health care and national security along with legislation to increase the government’s authority to borrow money.

Each of those items is sure to test the unity that Republicans are enjoying now.

“The more stuff that’s pushed into January, it’s unfortunate because we’ll have to do this all over again,” said Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota. “But at some point we’ve got to make the hard decisions.”

The House immediately turned to an $81 billion measure to deliver rebuilding aid to hurricane victims in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean as well as fire-ravaged states. But the Senate was unlikely to go along as both Republicans and Democrats want changes.

The stopgap legislation would keep the government from closing down at midnight Friday. It has traversed a tortured path, encountering resistance from the GOP’s most ardent allies of the military, as well as opposition from Democrats who demanded but were denied a vote on giving immigrants brought to the country as children and in the country illegally an opportunity to become citizens.

President Donald Trump rescinded a Barack Obama order giving these so-called Dreamers protection against deportation, kicking the issue to Congress with a March deadline.

“They embody the best in our nation: patriotism, hard work, perseverance,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California told the chamber’s Rules Committee on Thursday. “We should not leave them to celebrate the holidays in fear.”

Trump and Republicans are pushing for additional border security and other immigration steps in exchange.

“The vast majority of Republicans want to see a DACA solution. They just want to see a DACA solution that’s balanced,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., referring to the program’s name, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

Also left unfinished were bipartisan efforts to smash budget limits that are imposing a freeze on the Pentagon and domestic agencies, a long-term extension of the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program for 9 million low-income kids and Senate legislation aimed at stabilizing health insurance markets.

Instead, lawmakers struggled to achieve the bare minimum: A $2.1 billion fix for an expiring program that pays for veterans to seek care outside the Department of Veterans Affairs system; a temporary fix to ensure states facing shortfalls from the Children’s Health Insurance Program won’t have to purge children from the program, and a short-term extension for an expiring overseas wiretapping program aimed at tracking terrorists.

Failure to pass the temporary spending measure would trigger a government shutdown at midnight Friday, which would amount to a political pratfall just after the GOP scored a major win on the landmark tax bill.

Trump weighed in on Twitter Thursday morning to offer a boost — and a slap at Democrats.

“House Democrats want a SHUTDOWN for the holidays in order to distract from the very popular, just passed, Tax Cuts. House Republicans, don’t let this happen. Pass the C.R. TODAY and keep our Government OPEN!” Trump tweeted.

GOP lawmakers insisted the legislation was crucial to keep operations running and give negotiators more time to finalize a spending blueprint.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said the legislation was essential for the “stability of our economy, and the security and well-being of the American people.”

Among Republicans, opposition to the temporary measure came mostly from the party’s defense hawks, who had hoped to enact record increases for the military this year and force the Senate to debate a full-year, $658 billion defense spending measure. But that idea was a nonstarter with the Senate, especially Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who will only agree to Pentagon increases if domestic programs get a comparable hike.

The short-term spending bill does contain about $5 billion to upgrade missile defenses to respond to the threat from North Korea and to repair two destroyers damaged in accidents this year in the Pacific.

The legislation also has a provision to turn off automatic cuts to many “mandatory” spending programs, including Medicare, that would otherwise be triggered by the tax cut bill. Democrats had sought to highlight the looming spending cuts in arguing against the tax measure.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse released a response following the spending bill’s approval:

“Again Republicans are refusing to do their work.  They still haven’t acted to raise the budget caps threatening to hobble important programs across the federal government.  They haven’t reauthorized the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers 9 million American children and mothers.  They haven’t passed the disaster relief bill that the people of Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida, and the American west need so very badly.  And, despite all the declarations and press conferences from this administration, they haven’t approved the kind of funding needed to combat the opioid epidemic raging in Rhode Island and around the country.  Worse, they haven’t sat down with Democrats to try.

“Then there are the Dreamers, who are rightly making their voices heard here on Capitol Hill.  Republicans’ refusal to extend the protections they signed up for in good faith is shameful.  Failing them is not who we are as Americans.”

“This is no way to govern.  The American people should take note.”

Congressman Jim Langevin released a statement following the passing of the bill:

“I cannot support yet another bill that kicks the can down the road leaving vital work undone. Republicans waited until there were only hours left before a government shutdown to unveil this bill, which was crafted without any Democratic input. Instead, Republicans focused all their attention on passing a deeply partisan tax bill that puts a $1.5 trillion hole in the deficit in order to line the pockets of their wealthy supporters.

“I am deeply disappointed that there has been no outreach across the aisle since we came to an overwhelmingly bipartisan agreement to keep the government funded three months ago. There has been ample time to find permanent, bipartisan solutions to ensure children have health coverage, provide funding for community health centers, and protect DACA-recipients from deportation. Republicans have not even attempted to find those solutions, instead preferring to pursue their political agenda and lurch from crisis to crisis. We need to provide certainty to federal agencies that are unable to make needed investments with only weeks of funding.

“This bill fails on all accounts. While I remain skeptical that Republicans will take the four weeks they’ve bought themselves to work collaboratively to tackle these challenges, I hope they do, and I remain ready to work with them.”

Congressman David Cicilline also released a statement on his reaction to the short-term spending bill:

“Republicans spent yesterday celebrating a tax bill that robs money from the middle class and gives it to corporations and the wealthiest Americans. Today, they failed to address any of the urgent needs facing working people.”

“This funding bill passed by the Republicans today fails to include a long-term, bipartisan extension of children’s health insurance and makes harmful cuts to critical preventative health care for kids. It fails to ensure that veterans can get the care they need through the VA. It abandons millions of American families who are struggling as a result of the ongoing opiate epidemic.

“If you’re wealthy and well-off, Republicans have your back. If you’re a working person, you’re on your own. That’s the message Republicans are sending with their tax bill and this budget resolution.”