Congress Passes Bill To Avert Shutdown For Two Weeks
Thursday, December 7, 2017
Updated at 6:17 p.m. ET
Congress has voted to avert a partial government shutdown that could have come Friday night.
Republicans carried the measure to passage in the House, with a vote of 235-193, with about a dozen Democrats voting in favor as well. The Senate passed the measure, known as a continuing resolution or C.R., with an overwhelming vote of 81-14. This pushes the next threat of a shutdown to the Friday before Christmas, setting up a possible showdown over immigration and defense spending as Congress is trying to leave town for the holidays.
The four top leaders of Congress — House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — went to the White House Thursday to discuss broader issues that would be part of a long-term spending deal.
President Trump tried to emphasize bipartisan unity, appearing with the leaders and Vice President Pence in the Oval Office before they began talks on Thursday afternoon.
"We're all here as a very friendly, well-unified group. It's a well-knit together group of people," Trump said. "And we hope that we're going to make some great progress for our country. I think that will happen."
This meeting is a make-up of sorts. The leaders were invited over by the president last week, but the Democrats backed out after Trump tweeted that a deal on government funding wasn't likely and called them "weak on crime," among other insults.
"We're here in the spirit of 'let's get it done,'" Schumer said in the Oval Office on Thursday. He and Pelosi mentioned issues such as funding the military, the opioid crisis, veterans and children's health care.
After the meeting, Democrats put out a statement reiterating those priorities, including a push to pass the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship the roughly 700,000 immigrants in the country illegally who were brought to the U.S. as children, known as DREAMers.
President Trump announced an end to the Obama-era policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals as of March 2018. DACA keeps those nearly 700,000 immigrants from being deported by immigration authorities.
Pelosi and Schumer have both said that they are willing to make a deal for protections for DREAMers that includes border security funds sought by Republicans, but not funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border that the White House continues to call for.
After the meeting, a statement from the White House said that Trump, McConnell and Ryan reiterated their belief that "negotiations on immigration should be held separately on a different track, and not as part of the government funding bill." It added that the president wants any such deal to accomplish several of its immigration goals: Construct a wall on the southern border, increase immigration enforcement and shift the U.S. to a merit-based immigration system over one that runs on family connections often called "chain migration."
House conservatives had raised objections to the plan to extend funding until Dec. 22 before reaching a longer-term deal because they worry the pressure to leave town right before Christmas will give Democrats leverage to get more of their priorities included in a spending bill at that time. But GOP leaders needed those conservatives to support the measure in the House because Democrats broadly refused to vote for it.
"It's kind of just basic governing, is keeping government going while we negotiate the finer details," Ryan told reporters Thursday morning.
Democrats have a rare bit of leverage in this situation. Unlike the efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and overhaul the tax code, Republicans need 60 votes in the Senate to pass government funding. With 52 Republicans in the chamber, that means they need at least 8 votes from Democrats or the independents who caucus with them.
Republicans can pass such a measure in the House with only GOP votes because they require just a simple majority, but with approximately 40 conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus usually opposed to spending bills, House Democrats have been needed to pass such measures in recent years. That didn't happen on Thursday, but the clock is now reset for Dec. 22 with no promises from conservative lawmakers.
The White House was looking for at least a short-term funding extension without other policy provisions attached.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference on Thursday that a fix for DACA is one of the party's priorities. She said Democrats won't leave at the end of the month without an immigration deal, but she added, "Democrats are not willing to shut government down, no."
Pelosi added that Democrats would not support the two-week funding extension the House passed on Thursday because she said it does not fund priorities such as fighting the opioid epidemic, veterans funding, or the Children's Health Insurance Program, which was not reauthorized by Congress in September.
"This is a waste of time," Pelosi said of the current measure.
Republicans have demands, too. They are seeking an increase in defense spending and relief from funding caps put in place by the Budget Control Act in 2011. Democrats say that would be acceptable if spending on domestic programs is increased with parity.
At the start of Thursday's meeting, Trump asked Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to speak as well, as he joined the congressional leaders gathered at the White House. "The number one priority for our country is to make certain we protect this Constitution and our way of life, and we've got great bipartisan support. I'm confident we'll walk out of this with it."
The White House says the leaders were taken to the Situation Room for a briefing by Mattis on military matters.
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