Senate Democrats Will Now Decide if Government Shuts Down Friday
Republicans muscle temporary spending measure through lower chamber to keep federal offices open for four more weeks
Although Republican leaders in the House of Representatives managed Thursday to pass a short-term funding measure, recalcitrant Democrats led by Sen. Charles Schumer will decide in the Senate if the federal government closes its doors Friday.
The House vote appeared headed for extended drama earlier in the day amid opposition from some members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus to a fourth short-term funding measure since the government’s 2018 fiscal year started on October 1.
But Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) worked out a deal with the Freedom Caucus to take up a separate measure on military readiness, and the final vote for a month-long extension passed by a comfortable 230-197 margin. All but 11 Republicans voted for the measure, as did only six Democrats.
The House vote, however, leaves the job half-finished. The measure must get at least 60 Senate votes to end debate, which is a grim prospect because a handful of Republicans and a united Democratic caucus vow to vote no unless amnesty is granted to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants whose parents brought them to the country when they were children.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reportedly was preparing to hold the Senate in session through the weekend if Democrats do not agree to a funding measure Friday. Republicans hold 51 Senate seats, but two, Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Thad Cochran of Mississippi, are out dealing with serious health problems.
Normally, their absence would result in a 49-49 tie on the vote for final passage, but Vice President Mike Pence, who also serves as Senate president, would then cast the 50th vote, as President Donald Trump supports the measure approved by the House.
Republicans and Democrats argued all day Thursday over who would get the blame for a shutdown.
“It is an affirmation of the inability of Republicans to govern,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said on the House floor. “Republicans have the presidency, the Senate and the House.”
“There’s nothing in it they’re against. If there is, I’d like to hear what it is.”
The bill would extend funding at current levels until February 16. It also would reauthorize the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years.
“The choice is a clear one,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.). “Shut down the government, don’t fund CHIP. Keep the government open, fund CHIP. That’s the choice before us tonight.”
Said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.): “It doesn’t have anything in it that offends my friends in any way. There’s nothing in it they’re against. If there is, I’d like to hear what it is.”
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) complained that Republicans had “squandered” three previous short-term extensions.
“Nothing was worked out,” he said. “Why? Because you spent all your time working on a tax bill giving 83 percent of the resources to the richest people in America.”
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said Hoyer’s comments show that Democrats want a shutdown.
“You can tell from the previous speaker how eager our Democrat colleagues are to shut down this government,” he said. “Get the votes to keep this government open, because we won’t provide them.”