Congress Passes Another Short-Term Spending Deal

WASHINGTON ― With lawmakers anxious to get home for the holidays, year-end spending negotiations came together quickly Thursday as House Republicans overcame their own internal divisions to pass another short-term spending bill to keep the government open, and Senate Democrats accepted the deal in short order.

The House passed another so-called continuing resolution, 231-188, with 16 Republicans voting no and 13 Democrats voting yes. The Senate then passed the bill, 66-32, with mostly Republican votes.

House Republicans wrung their hands for weeks over spending negotiations, with many Republicans advocating for a bill that would provide a full fiscal year of defense spending while giving other programs just a few weeks worth of appropriations until lawmakers could work out a larger deal. But Senate Democrats signaled they wouldn’t go along with that plan, meaning Republicans would either have to play hardball and risk shutting down the government, or they’d have to just swallow another short-term bill.

Defense hawks were particularly worried about kicking the can down the road on spending decisions, with automatic cuts scheduled for Jan. 21 if Congress can’t agree to raise spending caps that lawmakers set in 2011. Those pro-military Republicans wanted an agreement between Republicans and Democrats on, at least, how much Congress will raise the spending caps for defense and non-defense programs, giving the budget writers time to construct a larger appropriations bill.

But with Senate Democrats concerned that Republicans may shut down non-defense programs, Republicans had to accept what is now the third short-term continuing resolution (CR) for a fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

As one concession, Democrats did get a six-month supply of money for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in the CR. The program has been running out of money since October. The bill also includes language to waive certain pay-as-you-go rules that the GOP tax bill would trigger because of the new debt in their tax bill, which won’t be signed into law until these so-called Paygo rules are nullified with this legislation.

Still, almost all House Democrats were against this bill. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wanted a more complete spending deal in this measure, with a sizable portion of the Democratic caucus advocating for agreements on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program as well as the cost-sharing reductions in Obamacare, which reimburse insurers for offering lower rates to low-income individuals. Ultimately, Republicans didn’t need Democratic support in the House, with Republicans supplying 217 votes that would have allowed them to pass the bill on their own.

In the Senate, Democrats were more amenable to preserving these legislative fights until January, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) urging his colleagues to vote for the bill.

From the conservative perspective, this government funding bill is largely a win. Democrats didn’t get DACA. They didn’t get the cost-sharing reduction payments. And they got only a short-term agreement on CHIP. The conservatives who did vote no in the House mostly objected to Republicans attaching a short-term extension of certain National Security Agency spying authorities ― the so-called Section 702 program, which expires at the end of the month. (Republican leaders plan to extend that program in January by putting a separate bill on the floor that will pass with the help of Republicans and Democrats.)

But Democrats can also claim their own victories in this bill, albeit just by preserving leverage for another fight in a month.

When Congress returns in January, lawmakers will quickly have to agree on those spending cap numbers, and every indication is that the final deal the House and Senate work out will be one that conservatives hate and Democrats like. Democrats are poised to get a legislative fix for DACA and to extend the Obamacare payments, as well as win on spending priorities and perhaps get a larger extension on CHIP and even a debt-limit deal.

In that sense, Democrats are just pushing off the big fight until the end of January. And conservatives are going along with the plan.

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