Congress passes $333 billion spending bill to avert government shutdown
Many lawmakers weren’t sure what was in the massive spending agreement, but fear of another government shutdown greased the skids as Republicans and Democrats linked arms and voted to approve a bill to fund the government for the rest of fiscal year 2019.
President Trump’s assurance he would sign the bill also helped though the president’s promise to go around Congress, declare a national emergency and build more border wall than lawmakers funded was a sour note for many.
Senators voted 83-16 to approve the deal, and the House followed with a 300-128 vote later in the evening.
“This bill will give our country some level of certainty about the future in terms of their government,” said Rep. James McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat. “Most Americans are tired of the constant threat of a looming shutdown, and so am I.”
It was a speedy end to a spending fight that lasted months, saw the longest government shutdown on record, and whose outcome wasn’t assured until the last minute.
Racing a Friday deadline for another shutdown, negotiators didn’t strike a deal until Monday and didn’t release the details of the plan until Thursday morning at 12:13 a.m., unveiling a 1,169-page bill and a 609-page accompanying report.
Less than 16 hours later senators were voting.
Lawmakers acknowledged the frenetic and bizarre process, but they said the package was likely as good as negotiators could do amid newly divided government, and that enduring a second shutdown would be unthinkable.
“A, we should pass whatever it takes to get out of a shutdown. And B, we should never let this happen to us again,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican.
No one got everything they wanted on border security the issue that sparked the original shutdown.
President Trump only got $1.375 billion for border barriers, less than the $5.7 billion he’d asked, but more than Democrats’ zero-dollar ante. Democrats also caved on their demand to cap the number of illegal immigrants that can be detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Yet the bill contains stunning new limits on some deportations. ICE is banned from detaining or removing any illegal immigrant who lives in a household where someone is looking to take in an Unaccompanied Alien Child.
Analysts said that will spark a new rush of parents paying to have their children smuggled into the U.S., looking to use them as shields against deportation.
Those who wrote the bill brushed aside the complaints and said there was plenty to like in the bill.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Democrats’ leading Senate negotiator, touted a boost in funding for the EPA and support for national parks, and said the package rejects “anti-science know-nothingism” of the Trump administration by supporting money for scientific research.
“This is what a compromise looks like,” said Mr. Leahy, Vermont Democrat. “This is how the American people expect our government to function: not by tweets, but by reasonable, reality-based compromise.”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen touted money to protect the Chesapeake Bay, $150 million for the Washington area subway system, a 1.9 percent pay increase for civilian federal employees, and the certainty of funding for the rest of the year.
“The Trump Shutdown the longest in history was a political temper tantrum that wreaked havoc on our country,” said Mr. Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat. “While it’s not perfect, this spending agreement represents major progress.”
Republicans, meanwhile, said they were happy to have beat back Democrats’ attempt to cut the number of illegal immigrants ICE could detain, and said they managed to get more wall money than Democrats had said they would allow.
“The budget deal is a down payment on the wall, provides funding for more immigration judges, and does not include a cap on detention beds for violence illegal immigrant offenders,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.
While homeland security money was the battleground, it was just one of nine departments, spanning dozens of agencies, caught in the shutdown fight. The new bill also includes full 2019 funding for NASA and the EPA, the Justice and State Departments, the National Park Service and the Smithsonian.
The Commerce Department is getting a $1 billion boost to prepare for the 2020 census.
The IRS is also getting a slight boost compared to 2018, as the agency grapples with processing Americans’ returns for the first full tax year after the GOP’s 2017 tax cut.
The National Endowment for the Arts and the EPA are seeing increases, and there’s $9 billion for new transportation infrastructure projects.
Funding boosts were made possible by a deal Congress struck a year ago to lift strict spending caps by about $300 billion collectively in 2018 and 2019.
Left on the cutting-room floor was an extension of the Violence Against Women Act, a law intended to combat domestic violence that originally passed in 1994 and has been revised and reauthorized several times since then.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday he was “frustrated” by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s refusal to extend the law.
But a senior Democratic aide said there is “zero” impact from the lapse, and grant money will continue to flow.
A GOP source questioned Democrats’ logic.
“If they’re saying the lapse doesn’t matter because it’s funded in appropriations, then what’s the pressure to take up a whole new bill?” the source said.
Republicans said Democrats are letting the law lapse to try to create pressure to pass an updated version of VAWA. It will include new provisions aimed at protecting domestic violence victims, as well as gun-related measures that would ban people convicted of dating violence and stalking and those under protective orders from possessing firearms.
Democrats had also pushed to include back pay for federal contractors who were affected by the shutdown, but that, too, was left out.
Leaders defended the breakneck pace for pushing the bill through Congress, saying lawmakers should have known the general outlines.
But opponents didn’t buy it, citing both the $333 billion price tag and chaotic process as reason enough to vote no.
Indeed, House Democrats released one version of the bill, at 1,159 pages, just after midnight then released an updated version later in the morning with an additional 10 pages added.
Tucked inside those 10 pages was a controversial provision that could double the number of seasonal guest-worker visas.
Sen. Ben Sasse calculated that the bill spent $270 million per page.
“This is a crappy way to spend taxpayers’ money,” said Mr. Sasse, Nebraska Republican. “No senator is even pretending to have read this dang swamp thing.”
He was one of the conservatives who voted against the measure.
In the House, conservatives tried to derail the rush to pass the bill, asking for a one-week extension of current funding so everyone could digest the bill.
“If I started reading this bill at 6 a.m., I would have had to read about a hundred pages an hour to finish by now,” Rep. Andy Biggs, Arizona Republican, said as he made his case to the rules committee for more time in the late afternoon. “That does not include any time to process the information laid out and the impacts it will have.”
While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi managed to keep most of her troops in line, a handful of liberal freshman renegades said they couldn’t abide the amount of money for homeland security in the bill.
“By any reasonable measure, Donald Trump’s weaponization of ICE and CBP [Customs Border Protection] has been a failure,” the freshmen said in a joint statement. “The Department of Homeland Security does not deserve an increase in funding.”