House Passes Short-Term Spending Bill to Avoid Government Shutdown

By Kristina Peterson Features Dow Jones Newswires

Top House Republicans moved to pass a stopgap spending bill Thursday needed to avoid a government shutdown, after GOP leaders scrapped a partisan proposal prioritizing military funding ahead of the weekend deadline.

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House Republicans were optimistic Thursday they had enough votes to pass a short-term spending bill that would keep the government funded through Jan. 19, putting off contentious long-term funding fights until next year. Current government funding expires at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday.

"We will get it done today," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) told reporters.

If the bill passes the House, the Senate could take it up as soon as later Thursday.

"The Senate stands ready to take up an agreement as soon as one originates in the House," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said on the Senate floor Thursday.

Some House Republicans had grumbled at the change in plans Wednesday, after GOP leaders dropped a proposal to fund the military through the full fiscal year, which ends in September. That plan stood no chance of passing the Senate, where Democrats, whose votes are needed to pass spending bills, demanded that military and domestic spending be extended for the same duration.

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"There's obvious disagreements by particularly people on the defense side," Rep. Steve Womack (R., Ark.) said Wednesday evening, as House Republicans left a tense closed-door meeting on the spending-bill strategy. Still, Republicans said they expected to reach an agreement to avoid a partial shutdown that could steal the spotlight from passage of their tax overhaul this week.

"I don't think that our conference, given the victory that we've just taken on tax, will risk a shutdown," Mr. Womack said.

President Donald Trump weighed in Thursday morning, urging House Republicans to go along with the stopgap spending bill, or continuing resolution, known as a CR.

"House Democrats want a SHUTDOWN for the holidays in order to distract from the very popular, just passed, Tax Cuts," Mr. Trump said on Twitter. "House Republicans, don't let this happen. Pass the C.R. TODAY and keep our Government OPEN!"

House Democrats aren't expected to support the spending bill unless GOP leaders make late concessions to win their votes. But Republicans, who hold a 239-193 majority, were optimistic they could pass the bill on their own, according to GOP aides.

In the Senate, Democrats have signaled they are interested in keeping the government running. In particular, Senate Democratic leaders haven't moved to use the spending bill as leverage on immigration.

Immigration activists and some rank-and-file Democrats in both chambers wanted to withhold support for the spending bill unless it contained protections for so-called Dreamers, young people living in the U.S. illegally who were brought here as children.

Mr. Trump in September ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, that protected them, but gave Congress six months to pass legislation before protections begin to expire.

To help maintain their leverage, Senate Democrats pushed to consider other big-ticket legislative items next month, when lawmakers expect to resolve the immigration fight and pass a longer-term spending bill.

"I don't think you can resolve half of it now, half of it in January," said Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) " It just won't happen."

Congressional leaders are still negotiating a two-year budget deal to raise overall spending levels from limits established in 2011. Lawmakers have since then passed several multiyear deals avoiding those spending curbs and hope to reach another two-year deal in January.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said Democrats objected to a separate $81 billion package of disaster aid for states and territories affected by this year's destructive storms expected to get a vote in the House Thursday. Democrats argue the emergency aid doesn't do enough for Puerto Rico, compared with its treatment of Texas and Florida, which have large House Republican delegations.

"Democrats want to make sure that we have equal bargaining, and we are not going to allow things like disaster relief go forward without discussing some of the other issues we care about," Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday.

The House spending bill would make available $2.85 billion to shore up states' funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have indicated that they will be able to transfer enough money to states running low to get them through the end of January or early February, a House GOP aide said. Lawmakers hope to include a longer-term reauthorization of the program in the January spending bill.

The spending bill also contains a short-term extension of surveillance authorities under a law that authorizes an array of electronic spying through mid-January.

The long-term renewal of the law, called the FISA Amendments Act, has emerged as an unexpected flashpoint on Capitol Hill, where conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats have banded together to demand greater privacy protections for Americans caught up in surveillance of foreigners. The short-term extension gives Congress additional time to debate what kind of changes to make to the program.

--Byron Tau contributed to this article.

Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com

WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a short-term spending bill to keep the government funded through mid-January and avoid a partial shutdown looming at week's end.

The vote was 231 to 188, largely along party lines.

The measure now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to pass later Thursday or early Friday, before the government's current funding expires at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday.

Although the bill will keep the government funded for less than a month, its passage marked a surprising victory for House GOP leaders, who often struggle to pass spending bills without significant Democratic support.

In the vote, 217 House Republicans and 14 Democrats supported the bill, while 16 Republicans and 172 Democrats opposed it.

"The fact that we got tax reform done makes this vote much easier," said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R., N.C.), chief deputy whip of House Republicans. Normally "it is difficult for us to pass a plain vanilla item or the most conservative" bill just with GOP votes, he said.

House Republicans this month passed a two-week spending bill with GOP support, although some Democrats ended up voting for it as well. For a group that often splits over its strategy, the spending bills marked a rare moment of cohesion within the House GOP.

"We move in all different directions," said Rep. Roger Williams (R., Texas) "We're like an aquarium, we're swimming everywhere."

Some House Republicans had grumbled at the change in plans Wednesday, after GOP leaders dropped a proposal to fund the military through the full fiscal year, which ends in September. That plan stood no chance of passing the Senate, where Democrats, whose votes are needed to pass spending bills, demanded that military and domestic spending be extended for the same duration.

President Donald Trump weighed in Thursday morning, urging House Republicans to go along with the stopgap spending bill, or continuing resolution, known as a CR.

"House Democrats want a SHUTDOWN for the holidays in order to distract from the very popular, just passed, Tax Cuts," Mr. Trump said on Twitter. "House Republicans, don't let this happen. Pass the C.R. TODAY and keep our Government OPEN!"

In the Senate, Democrats have signaled they are interested in keeping the government running. In particular, Senate Democratic leaders haven't moved to use the spending bill as leverage on immigration.

Immigration activists and some rank-and-file Democrats in both chambers wanted to withhold support for the spending bill unless it contained protections for so-called Dreamers, young people living in the U.S. illegally who were brought here as children.

--Byron Tau contributed to this article.

Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 21, 2017 17:33 ET (22:33 GMT)