Senate Approves Two-Year Budget Deal, Stopgap Spending Bill -- Update
By Kristina Peterson and Natalie Andrews
The Senate approved a breakthrough two-year budget deal and stopgap spending bill early Friday, sending the package to the House too late to prevent a government shutdown that began at midnight.
In a 71-28 vote, the spending package easily cleared the Senate, buoyed by the support of both parties' leaders and lawmakers' eagerness to provide stable funding for the government after months of short-term patches. But resistance from Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) delayed its passage in the Senate until after the government's current funding expired at midnight.
The package heading to the House includes a short-term spending bill that would keep the government running through March 23. If passed by the House, that would give lawmakers enough time to translate the deal's overall funding levels into a detailed spending bill that will fund the government through September.
Although the top four congressional leaders negotiated the budget deal unveiled this week, it faced pockets of resistance in the House from conservative Republicans concerned about lifting spending and debt and Democrats worried it would diminish their leverage in the immigration debate.
The hard-fought budget deal would boost federal spending for both the military and domestic programs by almost $300 billion above limits set in a 2011 law over two years, in addition to nearly $90 billion in disaster aid for areas recovering from last year's destructive storms. It would also suspend the government's borrowing limit through March 1, 2019.
The bill was expected to narrowly prevail in the House as GOP leaders worked to flip recalcitrant conservatives. With the opposition of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), it wasn't clear how many House Democrats would back the budget deal.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spent Thursday calling Republicans to encourage them to support the bill because it increases military spending, a GOP aide said.
The inaction by Congress meant that, technically, the government was set to run out of funds. However, no offices or services were expected to be significantly shut down, so long as the bill passes the House early Friday and is then signed by President Donald Trump.
Lawmakers from both parties pinned the sudden shutdown squarely on Mr. Paul, whose objections caused hours of delays in the Senate.
"The senator from Kentucky by objecting to the unanimous consent requests will effectively shut down the federal government, for no real reason," said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R., Texas).
Mr. Paul said he wanted more time to debate the bill's impact on the federal deficit.
"I can't just look the other way because my party is now complicit in the deficits," he said on the Senate floor Thursday night.
House passage of the budget deal would effectively end one of the most high-stakes fights in Washington, which devolved last month into a three-day partial government shutdown and a second one Friday. By ensuring stable government funding, the budget agreement would remove the threat of a shutdown from Democrats' arsenal, disappointing those who had wanted the minority party to wield it in the coming fight over immigration.
Spending bills need 60 votes to clear the Senate, where Republicans hold 51 seats. And with many conservatives expected to balk at the higher federal spending, GOP leaders will need Democratic votes to clear the spending package Friday morning.
"It does diminish our leverage, absolutely," Rep. Juan Vargas (D., Calif.) said of passing the budget deal, which he planned to oppose. "I don't see how it doesn't."
Mrs. Pelosi spoke for eight hours on the House floor on Wednesday, advocating for young illegal immigrants known as Dreamers and setting a record for the length of the speech. She received a standing ovation when she walked into a caucus dinner Wednesday night, but some Democratic lawmakers said Mrs. Pelosi's speech may have misleadingly broadcast that their sole ambition is to resolve the immigration debate.
"It may have once again reinforced with the American public that that is our singular priority, but I think that is not really the case," Rep. Marcia Fudge (D., Ohio) said of Mrs. Pelosi's speech. Ms. Fudge said she planned to vote for the budget deal, which she said contained "almost everything that I wanted."
Democrats this week began more openly questioning the wisdom of their leaders' attempts to link support for the spending bills to securing legal protections for the Dreamers.
"We weren't going to get DACA through the budget process no matter what, so yeah we can scream and yell and Nancy can get on the floor for eight hours and I congratulate her for doing that," said Rep. John Yarmuth (D., Ky.), referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, "but it still wasn't going to get us a resolution."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) promised an open debate over the fate of the young illegal immigrants. Mrs. Pelosi said she wanted the same commitment from House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has said he would only bring a bill to the House floor that had Mr. Trump's support. But on Thursday, Mr. Ryan said he was confident they could find a bipartisan bill that the president would back.
The spending bill also faced opposition from many conservatives in the House, who objected to its higher spending levels and suspension of the debt ceiling. On Wednesday night, the House Freedom Caucus, a group of roughly three dozen conservative House Republicans, said they would oppose it.
"We're spending more money than we ever spent in the Obama era," said Rep. Jeff Duncan (R., S.C.), a member of the Freedom Caucus, who said he planned to vote against the deal.
Nick Timiraos contributed to this article.
Write to Kristina Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org and Natalie Andrews at Natalie.Andrews@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 09, 2018 02:14 ET (07:14 GMT)Copyright (c) 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.