Trump signs stopgap bill, fending off shutdown for now

Continuing resolution will fund government, avoid shutdown, through Dec. 20

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., was guardedly optimistic about working out differences over policy riders and programmatic spending levels. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump signed a monthlong spending bill Thursday, hours before government funding had been set to expire at midnight.

The continuing resolution funds the government through Dec. 20, giving appropriators more time to hash out numerous divides over policy riders and programmatic spending levels. It’s the second time Congress has needed to pass a temporary spending bill since fiscal 2020 began Oct. 1.

The Senate voted 74-20 to clear the measure earlier Thursday.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., said Thursday morning that she does not expect an agreement before members leave town for the one-week Thanksgiving break. “But what’s most important, I think, is that ... we are working hard to find a high to finalize the process,” she said.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., said Thursday morning that she does not expect an agreement on spending levels before members leave town for the one-week Thanksgiving break. “But what’s most important, I think, is that ... we are working hard to find a high to finalize the process,” she said.

Over the recess, Lowey said, there will likely be a combination of staff discussions and lawmaker phone calls. “I’m always available,” she said.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., was guardedly optimistic about the talks.

“Our numbers have gotten closer and closer. But sometimes we are ready to close the curtain and make things work and the demands go up on the other side,” he said. “They seem to change the agenda from time to time.”

It wasn’t immediately clear what Shelby meant. A House Democratic aide declined to comment.

Shelby did seem to accept the idea that subcommittee allocations for the dozen fiscal 2020 bills can be finalized before reaching agreement on how much money to give Trump for the border wall, the issue that sparked the longest government shutdown in history late last year.

“Border wall is going to have to be resolved before we get some type of legislation,” he said. “Now, border wall is not directly connected, but indirectly, to the allocations.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said Thursday during floor remarks that the year-end negotiations could go down one of two paths. The first path, which ends in a bipartisan agreement, doesn’t include Trump’s involvement. The second, where Trump would “stomp his feet” and “make impossible demands” would likely end in another government shutdown, the New York Democrat said.

Temporary spending bills are routinely needed to buy additional time to wrap up the year’s spending bills. Lawmakers have used at least two every year since 1996 — the last time Congress passed all of its appropriations bills on time, according to the Congressional Research Service. Stopgap measures lasted for a full year during fiscal years 2007, 2011 and 2013.

Appropriators are hoping to avoid a series of temporary spending bills, but haven’t ruled out additional bills lasting into early spring or even next September.

Before voting on the continuing resolution, the Senate voted 73-20 to table an amendment from Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul that would have reduced spending by 1 percent.

Shell drama

Thursday’s vote followed a somewhat frantic couple of days during which the House and then the Senate tried to move the CR off its legislative vehicle due to concerns that it was the only fiscal 2020 spending package that had passed both chambers, making it available for an appropriations conference report. Congressional leaders and the White House are adamant about avoiding another omnibus package, but are willing to use smaller packages to get all the bills done.

House Democrats selected the eventual vehicle, a four-bill package that included the Commerce-Justice-Science, Agriculture, Interior-Environment and Transportation-HUD measures. Senate Republicans immediately questioned the decision, arguing it would make the process more difficult in December by taking an available conference report vehicle off the table.

House Democrats said the move was just designed to speed the process of passing the CR, and an aide said senators never asked them in advance not to use the four-bill package as a vehicle. But they agreed to the Senate’s request for a vehicle change, selecting an unrelated commemorative coin bill.

But then Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, came along. Roy objected to a unanimous consent request to change the vehicle, arguing he didn’t want to make things easier for appropriators next month to put together a “bloated spending package” right before Christmas.

“Today’s tactic is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with Washington,” Roy said on the House floor Tuesday, before the measure passed that chamber on a 231-192 vote.

Roy also said he favors a full-year stopgap, and some GOP senators also have said they want a long-term CR, according to sources.

The Senate nearly reached agreement Wednesday to switch the vehicle and insert the stopgap into the shell of a fiscal 2019 Agriculture spending bill that the House passed in January during the shutdown. Objections from two GOP senators prevented that from happening, forcing the Senate to revert to passing the monthlong CR on the original shell.

House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern dismissed the dispute over legislative vehicles as “much ado about nothing.”

“I don’t know what the big fuss is over,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. “There are plenty of vehicles they can use to put on a long-term spending bill.”

McGovern added that Democrats tried to address Senate concerns but Republicans got in the way. “If it was such a big deal, they should have gotten their membership in line. We tried to accommodate them and their members screwed it up,” he said.

The one-month stopgap generally continues current funding levels, with certain exceptions. The Census Bureau will be funded at an annualized rate of $7.3 billion due to needs associated with the 2020 decennial headcount, for instance.

The measure also carries policy extensions that allow authorizing committees more time to debate the future of those programs. Three Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provisions that were set to expire on Dec. 15 will be reauthorized until March 20, for instance. And several health care programs, including funding for community health centers and teaching hospitals will continue, as will the Export-Import Bank, for the duration of the CR.

The measure also prevents the cancellation of $7.6 billion in highway spending that was set to take place on July 1, 2020 under the 2015 surface transportation law.

Lawmakers also opted to codify a 3.1 percent pay raise for U.S. troops that will go into effect Jan. 1, after Republicans in recent weeks blasted Democrats for holding up the Defense appropriations bill.

Paul M. Krawzak, David Lerman and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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