Congress votes to reopen government, passes budget deal
The US Congress passed a crucial federal spending bill Friday after hours of delay, sending the measure for President Donald Trump's signature to end the nation's second government shutdown in three weeks.
The House moved swiftly early Friday to reopen the federal government and pass a $400 billion budget deal, overcoming opposition from both liberal Democrats and tea party conservatives to endorse enormous spending increases despite looming trillion-dollar deficits.
The 240-186 vote came in the pre-dawn hours, putting to bed a five-and-a-half hour federal freeze that relatively few would notice. Many who did quickly labeled it a pointless, head-scratching episode. The shutdown was the second in three weeks.
The breakdown came largely in the Senate, when after a day of inaction, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky went rogue and stalled a vote in protest over his party's willingness to bust the budget. But Democrats also had their divisions and wrangling, largely with liberal upset the measure were not tied to any plans to assist the "Dreamer" immigrants.
Most Democrats opposed the measure, following the lead of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who tried and failed to use the moment to secure a promise for a separate vote on immigration. Up to the final minutes, it was not clear the bill would pass and many Democrats held their votes, allowing the tally to creep slowly and giving no indication which way it might fall.
House Speaker Paul Ryan urged Congress to avoid a "second needless shutdown in a matter of weeks — entirely needless."
There was far less drama in the Senate, where the measure sailed through by a 71-28 tally. President Donald Trump has promised to sign the bill into law.
The White House was forced to order the government shutdown shortly after midnight, but leaders quickly hustled to move before federal employees were due back at work, hoping to minimize the disruption. A shutdown essentially cuts the federal workforce in half, with those dubbed non-essential not allowed to work, while military and essential workers remain on the job.
The House vote ensured most employees would report for work as usual. Under federal law, passage of the measure is enough to call off the shutdown; Trump is expected to sign the measure as soon as he receives it.
The White House kept its distance from the quarreling on Capitol Hill. Trump did not tweet and aides did not try to assign blame.
Senate GOP leaders, however, were clearly irked by the debacle. In his attempt to sway Paul to relent, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas declared his fellow Republican was "wasting everyone's time" and prompting a shutdown for "no good reason." But Paul, the resident contrarian, repelled suggestions to stand aside.
"I didn't come up here to be part of somebody's club. I didn't come up here to be liked," Paul said.
The budget agreement is married to a six-week temporary funding bill needed to keep the government operating and to provide time to implement the budget pact.
The bill includes huge spending increases sought by Republicans for the Pentagon along with a big boost demanded by Democrats for domestic agencies. Both sides pressed for $89 billion for disaster relief, extending a host of health care provisions, and extending a slew of smaller tax breaks.
It also would increase the government's debt cap, preventing a first-ever default on U.S. obligations that looms in just a few weeks. Such debt limit votes are usually enormous headaches for GOP leaders, but the increase means another vote won't occur before March 2019.
Senate leaders had celebrated the budget deal as a sign they had left behind some of their chronic dysfunction. Just three weeks ago, Senate Democrats sparked a three-day partial government shutdown by filibustering a spending bill, seeking relief for "Dreamer" immigrants who've lived in the country illegally since they were children.
Senate Democrats had no appetite for another shutdown.
House GOP leaders shored up support among conservatives for the measure, which would shower the Pentagon with money but add hundreds of billions of dollars to the nation's $20 trillion-plus debt.
House Democratic leaders opposed the measure — arguing it should resolve the plight of Dreamers — but not with all their might. Pelosi made it plain she wasn't pressuring her colleagues to kill the bill, which is packed with money for party priorities like infrastructure, combating opioid abuse and helping college students.
"She negotiated the deal. Her team was in on it," said top GOP vote counter Patrick McHenry, R-N.C. "And they were a 'no.' And at the end her team broke."
Pelosi continued to press Ryan for a promise to bring an immigration measure sponsored by Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., up for a vote. But many Democrats backed the measure without that assurance.
Ryan said again Thursday he was determined to bring an immigration bill to the floor this year — albeit only one that has Trump's blessing.
"We will solve this DACA problem," Ryan said just before the vote. "Once we get this budget agreement done — and we will get this done for no matter how long it takes for us to stay here — we will focus on bringing that debate to this floor and finding a solution."
The episode was a clear defeat for those who had followed a risky strategy to use the party's leverage on the budget to address immigration. Protection for the Dreamers under former President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, formally expires next month and there's no sign that lawmakers are making progress on an agreement to extend the program.
Republicans, too, had their disappointments. Many were sheepish about the bushels of dollars for Democratic priorities and the return next year of $1 trillion-plus deficits. But they pointed to money they have long sought for the Pentagon, which they say needs huge sums for readiness, training and weapons modernization.
"It provides what the Pentagon needs to restore our military's edge for years to come," said Ryan.
Beyond $300 billion worth of increases for the military and domestic programs, the agreement adds $89 billion in overdue disaster aid for hurricane-slammed Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, a politically charged increase in the government's borrowing cap and a grab bag of health and tax provisions. There's also $16 billion to renew a slew of expired tax breaks that Congress seems unable to kill.
"I love bipartisanship, as you know," said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. "But the problem is the only time we discover bipartisanship is when we spend more money."
- 'DEFINITION OF HYPOCRISY' -
The Kentucky Republican took the floor to blast the increase in federal spending limits, and in particular the fiscal irresponsibility of his own party.
"I can't in all good honesty and all good faith just look the other way because my party is now complicit in the deficits," Paul said.
"If you're against president (Barack) Obama's deficits, but you're for the Republican deficits, isn't that the very definition of hypocrisy?" he boomed, adding that he wants his fellow lawmakers "to feel uncomfortable" over the impasse.
Moving legislation swiftly through the upper chamber of Congress requires consent by all 100 members, but Paul objected.
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer warned that the delay put lawmakers "in risky territory," and a number of fellow Republicans including Senator John Cornyn confronted Paul in the chamber about his strategy.
But Paul refused to yield and allow an early vote, forcing a shutdown while highlighting his policy priorities about excessive government spending.
The bill's fate in the House had been far from certain. Several fiscal conservatives in the lower chamber joined with Paul in balking at adding billions of dollars to the national debt two months after passing a $1.5 trillion tax cut package.
- $300 BILLION MORE -
And liberal stalwarts including top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi were also in revolt because the deal does nothing to protect immigrants known as "Dreamers," who were brought to the US illegally as children, from deportation.
"Nobody wants a shutdown," Pelosi told the House moments before the vote.
She said she wanted an assurance from Ryan that he would take up the issue of immigration in the coming weeks.
"Give us a chance to allay the fear that is in the hearts of these Dreamers and their families, and remove the tears from the Statue of Liberty observing what is happening here," she said.
Ultimately, enough members from both parties joined forces to get the temporary spending bill across the finish line.
It incorporates the major budget deal reached between Senate leaders on both sides of the political aisle.
That agreement includes a $300 billion increase to both military and non-military spending limits for this year and 2019, and raises the debt until March 1 next year.
It also provides a massive $90 billion disaster relief package and funding to address the nationwide opioid abuse crisis.
Democrats have sought to link the federal funding debate to a permanent solution for hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, who were shielded from deportation under the Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
But Trump ended the program last September, setting March 5 as a deadline for resolving the issue.
The White House's current proposal -- one that would put 1.8 million immigrants on a path to citizenship, but also boost border security, and dramatically curtail legal immigration -- has been panned by Democrats.
Several bipartisan efforts have stalled, but on Friday Ryan offered his "sincere commitment" to address immigration with legislation on the House floor.