House Republicans took the first step Thursday toward avoiding a partial shutdown when they passed a stopgap measure to fund the government through Jan. 19.
The chamber voted in favor of a continuing resolution, 231-188, sending the measure to the Senate where it’s expected to pass later Thursday or early Friday. Without the stopgap — the third such measure deployed for fiscal 2018 — funding would expire at midnight Friday.
The House also passed, 251-169, an $81 billion disaster supplemental to provide continued relief to states and U.S. territories impacted by hurricanes and wildfires. But in the Senate Democrats raised concerns about the measure and suggested they might not vote for it, which would push the supplemental to January.
The CR through Jan. 19 is not a “clean” spending bill in that it includes several attachments. It reauthorizes Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act through the same date, funds the Children’s Health Insurance Program and community health centers through March 31 and appropriates $2.1 billion for a private care access program for veterans known as the Veterans Choice Program.
The measure also includes defense anomalies — $4 billion for missile defense and $700 million for Navy ship repairs — to get around the sequestration spending cap. A provision to waive the statutory pay-as-you-go rule on the tax overhaul bill to avoid sharp automatic cuts to mandatory spending programs was also added to the CR.
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No help from Democrats
While House Democrats helped Republicans pass the first stopgap in September that extended funding to Dec. 8, they refused to do so for the CR extending funding to Dec. 22 and again refused on the latest through Jan. 19. A few Democrats voted for the CR but only after Republicans put up enough votes on their side to pass it.
House Republicans, used to Democrats providing support on spending bills, faced some roadblocks as they worked through disagreements in their conference to secure the votes on the two most recent CRs.
“In a sense, I think the Democrats not being willing to vote for it has certainly helped us bring everybody together,” senior appropriator and leadership ally Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said.
“It means we’re a majority, doesn’t it?” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy observed.
That majority will be tested once again in January as lawmakers hope the third time is a charm for reaching a deal on an omnibus spending measure that has proved elusive over the past several months.
For that to occur, Republicans will first need to reach an agreement with Democrats to raise the sequestration budget caps on defense and nondefense spending. Then they’ll need to navigate potential tripwires on unrelated issues that are expected to be rolled into the spending debate, such as FISA, health care stabilization legislation and a legislative replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
An agreement from House GOP leaders to hold a standalone vote on a long-term FISA reauthorization and make requested amendments in order is what got some members of the conservative Freedom Caucus to vote for the CR.
“We were able to get some parameters for 702 reauthorization next year that was consistent with some of my more liberty loving members,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said. “And so with that, we released everyone [to vote their conscience]. I went to yes last night and a number of our members have gone to yes.”
However, some members of the caucus, like former chairman Jim Jordan, remained opposed.
The defense anomalies also helped ease concerns from defense hawks about using a continuing resolution to fund the military, although a few still voted against the CR.
More Republicans voted against the $81 billion disaster supplemental, citing concerns about spending that much without offsets.
Many Democrats also opposed the disaster supplemental as their leadership had been urging a “no” vote on the bill because of relief they were seeking for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands that was not included.
When appropriators received the “paltry” $44 billion disaster aid request from the administration they began bipartisan, bicameral negotiations to improve the supplemental, House Appropriations Committee ranking member Nita Lowey said in a statement.
“I sincerely regret that majority leadership abandoned that process, choosing instead to disregard input from Democrats — and even from Senate Republicans — and develop their own partisan supplemental,” she said. “The result of that decision is a poor product that will not be enacted into law.”
Jennifer Shutt and Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.