Senate passes bill to end shutdown, sending it to House
The Senate cleared a budget deal early Friday morning after Congress missed a deadline to prevent the second government shutdown in less than a month.
Senators voted 71-28 to pass the agreement after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) delayed the legislation past midnight, sparking a brief partial closure.
The House is expected to vote on the measure later Friday morning. Passage is not assured, as Democrats are demanding a commitment from Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for a vote on immigration. A number of conservative Republicans are also expected to oppose the bill.
The latest notice from Rep. Steve Scalise’s (R-La.) office predicated a vote to occur “very roughly” between 3-5 a.m. on Friday.
The deal includes new budgetary ceilings for two years that would increase spending on defense and nondefense programs. It raises the debt ceiling until March 2019 and provides more than $89 billion in relief for a spate of recent hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters.
The bill also includes a stopgap measure that, if it passes the House, would allow the government to quickly reopen and be funded through March 23.
The White House Office of Management and Budget said late Thursday that it had directed federal agencies to prepare for a lapse in funding as the budget deal stalled in the Senate.
The middle-of-the-night floor drama comes after Paul derailed what was expected to be a relatively smooth path for the budget deal in the Senate, prompting backlash from his GOP colleagues.
The libertarian-leaning Kentucky Republican demanded a vote on an amendment that would keep lower budgetary ceilings in place, preventing an increase in spending.
“I have been offering all day to vote. I would like nothing more than to vote. But it’s the other side. It’s the leadership that has refused to allow any amendments,” he said.
Leadership said giving into Paul’s demand would risk a wellspring of similar requests from senators on both sides of the aisle.
“Frankly, there are lots of amendments on my side, and it’s hard to make an argument that if one gets an amendment, that everybody else won’t want an amendment, and then we’ll be here for a very long time,” said Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), pleading with Paul from the Senate floor to speed up the vote.
As Paul rejected pleas from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other GOP senators that he end his protest, leadership appeared to dig in against his request for a vote on his amendment.
“I don’t think shutdowns work for anybody. The Schumer shutdown didn’t work, and I don’t think this is going to work either,” Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said after Paul rejected several of his requests to speed up the vote.
Asked if they would cave to Paul’s demands, he added “why reward bad behavior?” and noted that there were no ongoing negotiations between Paul and leadership staff.
Instead, senators began to trickle back to the Capitol after midnight and eventually approved the deal after 1 a.m.
In the House, leaders began the day sounding confident that they had the 218 votes need to send the bill to President Trump’s desk.
“I feel good. Part of it depends on the Democrats. This is a bipartisan bill. It’s going to need bipartisan support,” Ryan told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Thursday morning.
But as Paul’s delaying tactics dragged into Friday morning, opposition in the House, particularly among Democrats, seemed to be on the rise. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, estimated that fewer than 40 Democrats would support the bill.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent Ryan a letter on Thursday evening reiterating Democrats’ demand for a vote on a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program regardless of whether Trump supports it.
The program allows certain immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children to work and go to school in the country. It is being phased out beginning in March and has been at the center of talks on government funding this year.
Ryan will need to rely on dozens of Democrats after the House Freedom Caucus, which consists of roughly 30 conservative members, took an official position against the package because of fiscal concerns.
In a sign that leadership expected the vote in the House to be tight, sources told The Hill on Thursday evening that Defense Secretary James Mattis was calling members urging them to support the agreement.
The agreement increases defense spending by $80 billion in fiscal 2018 and by $85 billion in fiscal 2019, while raising nondefense spending by $63 billion and $68 billion in those years, respectively.
But fiscal hawks had balked because most of the roughly $300 billion isn’t paid for.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) quipped earlier this week that he’s “not only a ‘no,’ I’m a ‘hell no.’ “
In the Senate, Paul’s tactics represented just the latest time he’s frustrated his party’s leaders.
In 2015, he and other privacy-minded senators banded together to force a temporary shutdown of National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs.
During the heated floor fight, Paul used his leverage to kill off McConnell’s repeated attempts to reauthorize the expiring NSA programs — first for two months, then for eight days, then for five, then three, then two.
But this time, Paul largely found himself standing alone as he tried to force his party to reckon with the budget deal’s impact on the deficit.
“When Republicans are in power, it seems there is no conservative party. … The hypocrisy hangs in the air and chokes anyone with a sense of decency or intellectual honesty,” he said.
His maneuvering drew backlash from GOP senators who argued that his forced temporary shutdown wouldn’t keep the Senate from ultimately passing the budget deal.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) told Paul that he needed to “build a coalition” and “make a difference.”
“You haven’t convinced 60 senators or 51 senators. Go to work, build a coalition, make a difference. You can make a point all you want. But points are forgotten,” he said.
Cornyn added: “I think people understand this is the act of a single senator who is just trying to make a point but doesn’t really care too much about who he inconveniences.”