House Passes 2-Week Spending Bill to Avoid Shutdown This Week

Measure goes to Senate for a vote before Friday night

The House passed a bill that would keep the government open for two weeks beyond Friday’s shutdown deadline on a vote of 235 to 193.  

The bill passed Thursday after House Speaker Paul Ryan quelled a rebellion among some conservatives who wanted a longer stopgap bill as part of a strategy to avoid giving concessions to Democrats on spending.

The short-term spending measure, H.J.Res. 123, now heads to the Senate where it is expected to pass as soon as Thursday night, before the midnight Friday deadline. In that chamber it will need Democratic support to meet the Senate’s 60-vote threshold. Democratic leaders indicated they won’t seek to block the short-term spending, leaving the hard bargaining for later.

The House vote followed a meeting between top congressional leaders and President Donald Trump at the White House to negotiate a longer-term budget agreement that could raise military and non-defense spending above caps put into place following the 2011 standoff over raising the debt ceiling.

“We hope that we’re going to make some great progress for our country," Trump said in opening the Oval Office meeting.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after returning to the Capitol that while an agreement on spending limits wasn’t reached, "We agreed that we want to resolve all of these issues in the next couple of weeks.”

If Trump and the lawmakers can agree on overall budget limits, one option would be to put that into a second short-term spending bill to keep the government open from Dec. 22 into sometime in January. That stopgap measure could be combined with legislation shoring up Obamacare insurance markets and extending a children’s health insurance program.

‘The Same Play’

Republican Representative Paul Gosar, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said before the vote that he fears the Dec. 22 deadline will force Republicans into too many concessions to Democrats on spending and policy.

“I’m tired of seeing the same play again and again,” he said.

Under the original plan, Congress in January would hash out the remaining details of a trillion-dollar spending bill for the rest of the fiscal year. Lawmakers also are likely to take up raising the nation’s debt limit at the same time.

The ceiling on federal borrowing was suspended in September but snaps back into place on Friday. The Treasury Department has about $250 billion worth of extraordinary measures available to extend the deadline, plus about $80 billion in cash. The Congressional Budget Office has said the Treasury can use those measures through late March or early April.

Ahead of the White House meeting, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats are working in “good faith” toward a year-end deal that meets some of their priorities, including equal boosts in funding for non-defense and defense programs and a measure protecting young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Democrats boycotted a similar gathering last week after Trump tweeted that he didn’t see a deal as being possible. Trump said earlier this week that a government shutdown "could happen" because of Democratic demands.

‘On His Shoulders’

Schumer denied that Democrats are eager to force a confrontation.

“If a shutdown happens as the president seemed to be rooting for earlier in his tweet this year, it will fall on his shoulders,” he said on the Senate floor Thursday. “His party controls the Senate, the House and the presidency. Nobody here wants a shutdown. We Democrats are not interested in one.”

Republicans and Democrats have discussed a potential two-year budget deal raising spending by about $200 billion. A key issue has been whether the $549 billion defense spending cap would be raised by a larger amount than the $516 billion non-defense cap.

The conservative House Freedom Caucus is pushing Ryan to try to force Democrats to accept higher military funding without any increase in domestic funding. It wants to attach the full-year 2018 defense spending bill to the stopgap spending bill that would keep the rest of the government open only until January. The defense measure, H.R. 3219, would give the Defense Department $584.2 billion in discretionary funding and $73.9 billion in war funding -- more than the current $522 billion cap for the Pentagon alone.

“Until we get those assurances, we are just kicking a can down the road,” said Republican Representative Andy Biggs, a member of the Freedom Caucus.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker said GOP lawmakers agreed to go along with a two-week bill after Ryan promised to push Democrats to pass the defense spending bill separately and to keep immigration and payments to Obamacare insurers out of the next stopgap.

Walker said Ryan also committed to seek to include disaster relief spending in the Dec. 22 spending bill, as well as an effort to cut $190 billion in entitlement spending over 10 years through “some kind of work requirement for capable-bodied adults with no dependents.” Ryan declined to comment when asked by reporters about the GOP negotiating position. 

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